Teacher didn’t protest when sent home to change Muslim attire, principal said


The Watson Chapel School District teacher who was sent home to change out of his Muslim attire in 2010 did not create a scene or become hostile, according to the principal who sent him home.

Testifying in U.S. District Court Thursday, Henry Webb said he sent Mark Leon Essex Smith home because the dashiki and kufi Smith was wearing was “attire not appropriate for school.”

Smith has filed suit against the district, alleging he was discriminated against because of his religion, and was subjected to a hostile work environment, which resulted in his reassignment from teaching math to an alternative learning position.

Webb, who is now the principal at the junior high, said Smith “did not say he was a Muslim,” and he (Webb) “did not know Smith was a Muslim.”

Questioned by Smith, who is acting as his own attorney, Webb said he believed the attire, which Smith reportedly wore to celebrate a Muslim holiday, “was a distraction.”

Webb also admitted seeing Smith earlier in the day, but could not recall whether Smith was wearing Muslim attire at that time.

Smith was sent home during the school’s lunch break and Webb said he had not seen Smith in religious attire after the incident Sept. 10, 2010.

Varnette Bruce, the math coach for the school district, who was assigned to work with Smith to improve his teaching techniques, told Smith she was “unaware of his religious beliefs,” which she said she learned about from a newspaper story.

Asked if she had ever worn religious attire, Bruce said “no,” but admitted that she had worn a cross, and had never been asked to remove the cross.

Over objections by attorney Michael Dennis, who is representing the district, Smith asked Bruce what is the best indicator that a child has learned, the grade given by a teacher or the grade on a standardized test?

“In my opinion both. They’re both the same,” Bruce said.

Asked by Smith if she believed he was a bad teacher, Bruce said “no,” and also answered “no” when he asked her if she thought he should not be in the education field.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, who on Wednesday denied another motion by Dennis to throw out the case, allowed Smith to ask Bruce if she was aware of any data from previous years to indicate that the school had a problem with its mathematics instruction, saying he had been recruited to improve math scores.

Bruce said she was not aware of any data.

On Tuesday, the judge allowed Dennis to introduce a series of e-mails from parents of Smith’s students who were concerned about their grades, and Dennis said by the end of the first nine weeks of the fall semester in 2010, “more than half the students in Smith’s algebra class were failing the class.”

The trial is expected to end on Friday.