A young Muslim student was arrested and suspended recently when an English teacher thought a homemade clock looked like a bomb. The incident raised concerns of discrimination and Islamophobia. But what is the arrest telling the students of MacArthur High School about school justice?
A 14-year-old freshman at a new school wanted to impress his engineering teacher. He brought a homemade clock made of a circuit board and wires to school. The engineering teacher complimented him, but told him to keep the clock to himself. Then the clock made noise while he was in English class. His English teacher thought the device looked like a bomb, so she confiscated it.
By the way, the student is Muslim, and his name is Ahmed Mohammed.
The principal and a total of five police officers took him to another classroom and interrogated him without contacting the child’s parents, or addressing the supposed bomb. Irving Police spokesman Officer James McLellan told CNN,
“We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.”
The student was then placed in handcuffs and taken to a juvenile detention center where he was fingerprinted and had a mug shot taken. In the end, no charges were filed.
The Nation Responds
When news of Mohammed’s arrest hit social media, it caused an uproar resulting in the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed. Even President Obama got involved tweeting:
“Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.”
Among the outrage were accusations of racial discrimination and Islamophobia. Commentators at NPR noted that the mayor of Irving, Texas, where MacArthur High School is located, had recently received criticism for anti-Islamic statements on “The Blaze”.
The Lesson on School Justice
What has gone unsaid as Ahmed has gone from being arrested, to suspended, to eventually withdrawing from MacArthur High School all together, is the impact the school’s decision had on the student body. The lesson that these kind of knee-jerk reactions teach students in the classroom is that they don’t actually have to do anything wrong to be interrogated, suspended, and arrested. They learn that Due Process and the right to remain silent are just for TV, and don’t apply to them. They learn that a teacher’s misunderstanding of a situation can turn into an express ticket to Juvenile Detention.
It doesn’t matter that Ahmed wasn’t formally charged, or that the Irving Police Department is reviewing the decision to arrest. The damage is done. The lesson has already been learned. School justice has already been tarnished in the minds of those students, and all who are learning from the decisions made at MacArthur High School over a Muslim student and his home-made clock.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a students’ rights lawyer at Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She represents students at suspension and expulsion hearings, and in juvenile court. If your student is facing discipline at school, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a free consultation.