Suriyah Bi was sacked after she objected to a teacher showing children footage of people jumping from the Twin Towers after the terror attack
A Muslim teaching assistant who was sacked for objecting to 11-year-olds being shown graphic footage of the 9/11 attacks has won an unfair dismissal case against her former school.
Suriyah Bi, 25, was dismissed from the Heartlands Academy in Birmingham in 2015 after raising concerns about a year seven class with special needs being played a YouTube video that showed people jumping to their deaths from the upper floors of the World Trade Center.
The group had been studying Simon Armitage’s poem Out of the Blue, which was written for the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Bi claims that the teacher taking the lesson had to log in to her personal YouTube account to override a warning that the video was unsuitable for children and under-18s.
She said that when a warning message appeared on the screen, children asked if they should be watching it, but were told to be quiet by the teacher. Bi raised the issue the following day, on 23 September 2015, and was dismissed just over an hour later, less than a fortnight after she started the job.
A safeguarding checklist written three days after her dismissal, seen by the Guardian, mentions that Bi was head girl at Saltley School, which was implicated in the Trojan Horse affair five years after she left, and that she had completed a dissertation looking at the effect of the scandal on pupils. It said she raised concerns about the footage because it offended her as a Muslim.
“We suspect that this girl has done it before,” read the note. “She was head girl of one of the Trojan Horse schools.” The Trojan Horse scandal occurred in 2013 when an anonymous letter sent to Birmingham city council claimed that Islamic extremists had planned to take over state-run schools. The letter was later discredited as a fake.
“Damage caused by the Trojan Horse affair to students who went to those schools, other students in the area, and the Muslim community of Birmingham, will be felt for generations to come,” said Bi following the outcome of the final hearing of the tribunal. “Considering that it was chucked out of the courts and proven to be a hoax, it has affected thousands and thousands of lives.”
“Just because I went to a Trojan Horse affair school, which [was involved in the scandal] five years after I left … I was implicated as being an extremist.”
The school offered Bi £11,000 in compensation for loss of earnings a year after she was first dismissed. But she rejected the offer and instead took the case to an employment tribunal. In March, Bi was successful in a claim of unfair dismissal due to whistleblowing, though the judge rejected a claim that she was discriminated against on the grounds of her religion.
In the latest hearing this month, a judge ruled that Bi had also been victimised under the 2010 Equality Act. Bi has applied to have her discrimination claim reconsidered, insisting that she would not have been fired if she hadn’t been a Muslim, but said she is open to reaching a settlement with the school. A remedy hearing is expected to take place next year.
Bi, who has degrees from Oxford University and Soas, and is studying for a PhD in human geography at UCL, represented herself at the tribunal after failing to qualify for legal aid. In a statement, a spokesman for E-ACT, the multi-academy trust which runs Heartlands Academy, said: “Although we are disappointed by the judgment, we respect the tribunal’s decision and we continue to further strengthen our processes to ensure that there can be no repeat of the errors highlighted to us during this case.”
The spokesperson welcomed the judge’s decision in March to dismiss claims of religious discrimination. “Heartlands is an outstanding academy which prides itself on promoting a culture of inclusiveness and in creating a nurturing environment in which all issues can be openly discussed and understood by all,” he said. “It has an outstanding record for dealing with safeguarding matters and has in place robust safeguarding policies and practice.”