(ATLANTA, GA - 3/12/19) On March 12th, the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia), Jewish Voice for Peace - Atlanta, and local Palestinian Christian reverends plan to co-host a press conference on behalf of multiple students from Autrey Mill Middle School and their families.
Over the past week, the students have experienced bullying and online harassment as a result of false information that has been spread about an educational exhibit on Palestinian history that they displayed at the school's annual Multicultural Night both this year and last year .
During the press conference, CAIR-Georgia plans to call on Fulton County Schools to: admit that the principal and the school explicitly approved the exhibit, apologize for condemning and threatening action against the students based on misleading claims about the exhibit, protect the students from further bullying, and respect the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.
In letters to Fulton County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Cindy Loe and Autrey Mill Principal J.E. Trey Martin, CAIR-Georgia noted that the school approved the exhibit over the past two years, just as it approved an exhibit about Israel which featured a map of broader Israeli borders encompassing all Palestinian territory.
In a statement, CAIR-Georgia Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said:
"During Autrey Mill Middle School's annual Multicultural Night, the school welcomes students and their families to set up exhibits featuring food, artifacts, and other symbols of their diverse cultures and countries of origin.
"Over the past two years, Palestinian-American students and their families have participated in the multicultural event by arranging a popular exhibit featuring Palestinian cuisine, Palestinian flags, and a map of historic Palestine, among other symbols of Palestinian culture.
"School officials approved, visited, and praised this exhibit both this year and last year. The principal even sampled food from the booth. However, the school condemned the exhibit the very next day because an individual posted a partial photo of the exhibit on social media, leading to criticism.
"Much of the criticism has centered around a map of the Middle East which showed the State of Palestine where the State of Israel normally appears.
"If Fulton County Schools had simply followed up with the students or their families, the district would have known that they were not using the map to represent a fanciful depiction of a future Palestinian state.
"In reality, they were using the map to show the past: historic Palestine as it actually existed under British governance from 1920 until 1948, which is when the Palestinian grandparents of these Autrey Mill students were expelled from their homeland.
"In other words, the map depicted a real part of their family history and Palestinian history, not an attempt to engage in political or religious commentary.
"Furthermore, the school did not object to a prior exhibit about Israeli culture that included a map depicting a broader Israeli state encompassing East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, all of which are designated by international law as Palestinian territory.
"By publicly condemning these students before gathering the facts, Fulton County Schools validated an online smear campaign, turned a simple misunderstanding into a public spectacle, undermined the guarantee of free speech, and put a target on the back of the school's Palestinian-American students.
"The school system must now take three steps to end this manufactured controversy:
"Apologize for its premature and misleading statements of condemnation, which have led middle school students to experience bullying, online harassment, and public attacks, including accusations of supporting 'terrorists.'
"Retract its threat to take action against the students, who did nothing wrong. The school cannot punish students for what the school explicitly allowed them to do, nor can the school permit speech about broader Israeli borders while suppressing speech about past Palestinian borders. To do so would violate the Constitution, and undermine our educational system."
"Finally, the school must protect these students from further bullying, and heal the community. To that end, the students and their families are willing to meet with school officials and concerned community members to clear the air, build bridges, and move forward in a positive way."