Lawsuit: Muslim boy questioned at Ohio school about religion

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The parents of a 10-year-old Muslim boy who said he was questioned by an Ohio student teacher about his patriotism and religious beliefs and was told to undress to determine if he had been physically abused at home have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the boy's civil rights were violated last November.

The lawsuit filed last week names the Lakeview Local School District, a teacher, the student teacher and a school nurse as defendants. The district is based in Cortland, roughly 65 miles (105 kilometers) southeast of Cleveland.

The boy, now 11, is identified only by his initials in the lawsuit.

Lakeview schools Superintendent Velina Taylor said Tuesday attorneys for the district have told her she is not permitted to comment.

According to the complaint, the boy was in a math class last November when the student teacher repeatedly asked why he looked sad. The boy responded he was fine, yet the woman ordered him out of the classroom despite his protests, the lawsuit said.

It was then, the lawsuit said, that the student teacher began asking the boy about his religion, whether he believed in God, whether he loved America and whether any of his relatives have died. The lawsuit describes the boy as having darker skin and hair and notes that he is of Palestinian heritage.

Later that day, the teacher whose class he was in and the student teacher found the boy in a hallway at lunchtime and ushered him into a room where the school nurse was waiting. The lawsuit said the boy began crying and asked for his parents.

The lawsuit said he was then questioned about physical abuse at home and was told to lower his pants and lift his shirt to be examined.

The lawsuit said the boy was coerced into saying his mother disciplined him with a belt.

"That's what he thought the teachers wanted to hear," said family attorney Matthew Abens. "This is a 10-year-old child being pressured by teachers to make certain statements he knows are not true. If it wasn't for the fact of his ethnicity or religion, it would never have reached the level it did."

A county children's services agency investigated after being contacted by school officials, Abens said, and the case was closed a month later with no findings of abuse.

Abens said the boy has been traumatized by what happened to him, that he no longer enjoys school as much as he once did and is receiving mental health counseling.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

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