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Wilcox vows to investigate

The Pinellas school chief will sift through conflicting accounts in the head scarf case.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 14, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - The case of an 11-year-old Muslim girl who said a male classmate humiliated and threatened her last week at Azalea Middle School has made its way to school district headquarters.

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Tuesday he would investigate what happened and how the school responded. His statement came during a School Board meeting where the girl, her mother and an advocacy group asked the district to take more action.

The advocacy group was the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, known as CAIR.

Before they spoke, however, contradictory details emerged from the report of a St. Petersburg police officer who serves as the school's resource officer. The report by Officer William Stone states Azalea assistant principal Solomon Lowery interviewed the girl Friday after her parents called in to say that a boy in her science class threatened to bring a BB gun to school and shoot her.

The administrator told Stone he asked the girl if she was threatened in any way, and she said no. He said he asked her if the boy said he was going to bring anything to school, and she said no.

The report also says the boy was disciplined for pulling off the girl's Muslim head scarf two days earlier. It says the boy claimed to be the girl's friend.

The report differs sharply from accounts given by the girl, Hannah Chehab, who said no administrator interviewed her about the threat, which allegedly took place Thursday. Her only conversation with an administrator occurred when she reported that the boy pulled off her head scarf.

"How could they say such a thing?" Hannah said Tuesday after hearing of the police report. "I didn't talk to them, and they didn't talk to me."

She also disputed that the boy was her friend.

"We are looking into the matter. I am committed to getting the information back to CAIR as soon as I have it," Wilcox said after Hannah spoke to the School Board. "Everything that was said here is not necessarily what has been reported to us by the school. ... There are always two sides to every story."

Wilcox said he hoped the incident would not reflect poorly on Azalea, which has been working to reduce bullying.

"I would hate for this public airing to reflect poorly on the entire school when it probably just is a couple of students acting as cretins," he said.

In addition to the threat and the head scarf incidents, Hannah, a sixth-grader, has said her school year began when older students called her a terrorist and asked if she was hiding bombs.

St. Petersburg police said Tuesday they planned to continue investigating as well.

Several School Board members praised the girl, saying she articulated her case gracefully.

"We talk about diversity, but it's almost always black and white," board member Janet Clark said. "I think we need to make a concerted effort to let all of our students know there are many cultures, many religions. ... I hope we can push that more in our schools now."

Times staff writer Donna Winchester contributed to this report. Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at tobin@sptimes.com or 727 893-8923.