Monday, 09 December 2019

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Florida School officials scramble to review Sept. 11 Deerlake presentation after parent's concerns

By Nada Hassanein and CD Davidson-Hiers, For Tallahassee Democrat, On 16 September 2019, Read Original
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A Tallahassee parent is “livid,” the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is involved, and Leon County Schools officials are scrambling to review an “offensive” PowerPoint that was planned for a Sept. 11 memorial lesson at Deerlake Middle School. 

Ahmed Rashidi, whose 12-year-old son attends the school and is Muslim, was shocked when he downloaded history teacher Vince Cartwright’s presentation titled "Roots of 9-11" earlier this week from the school’s website and read the words: “On 9/11 Muslims celebrated news the WTC (World Trade Center) collapsed.”

The statement was pasted over a photo showing kids cheering, and a boy riding on a man’s shoulders while holding a machine gun pointed to the sky. The image was sourced from www.bible.ca, a Biblical website out of Canada. Another image was pulled from an online forum, History Commons, which identifies itself as “open-content” and “participatory.”

In the 92-slide PowerPoint, obtained by the Democrat from Rashidi, several images were hyperlinked to unofficial sources including from commentator Debbie Schlussel’s website. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified Schlussel as an “ultra-right-wing Muslim-hating blogger” in a 2011 article.

“These are the types of presentations that divide a community and pit people against each other,” Rashidi told the Democrat.

The presentation “demonizes” an entire American community that also was impacted by the horrific tragedy, he said.

The Deerlake history teacher has given and tweaked the since-deleted presentation for more than a decade, according to district spokesman Chris Petley.

In an email to the Democrat, Cartwright said he put together the PowerPoint using “a variety of sources” and that the slides “are strictly visual and do not constitute even a fraction of the content discussed in class.”

Cartwright wrote that he guides most of the 50-minute lesson, and supplements “with class discussions when students have questions.” He added that he has a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s in social studies from Florida State University and has “always stayed up to date with current events and news.”

Thania Clevenger, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the presentation is "inflammatory" and asked school officials to scrap it "because of the biased nature." 

“The presentation is certainly more propaganda than it is actual information about 9/11,” Clevenger told the Democrat. “There’s absolutely no way that that presentation could be given and not cause harm to Muslim students.”

The slides intersperse the words "Islam" and "Muslims" throughout without context, which could easily “create a hostile environment” for kids who are Muslim, Clevenger said. 

In an email to the Democrat, Principal Stephen Mills addressed Cartwright’s presentation and said that the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy would never be forgotten.

“Our school works diligently to educate our students on these historic events through various lessons and experiences,” Mills wrote. “After looking at the proposed presentation, we have some concerns with the material and have made the decision to use a different lesson plan this year.”

Seventh and eighth graders instead watched videos from various news outlets about the attack, district spokesman Petley said. 

"I will continue to teach my lessons on the causes and impacts of 9/11 as this is an extremely important date in our nation's history," Cartwright said via email. "As I did yesterday on Sept. 11, I will continue to implement a student-guided lesson to ensure that my students have a clear understanding of this event." 

District superintendent Rocky Hanna also weighed in on the PowerPoint, saying he had spoken with Mills about the “offensive nature” of some slides.

“I have questions about the presentation and have instructed staff to meet with those involved to gather more information,” Hanna said in an email to the Democrat. “As a former history teacher, it is extremely important that we teach the facts of history absent of any potential bias.”

“Today is a solemn and emotional day for all Americans as we reflect on the tragedy that occurred 18 years ago. We will never forget.”

Reach CD Davidson-Hiers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter @DavidsonHiers. Reach Nada Hassanein at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter @nhassanein_.