WSU Students Plan Protest at West Springfield High
The Hussein family immigrated to West Springfield as refugees years ago. After arriving, they enrolled in the public schools. According to three of the Hussein sisters, the bullying started immediately.
“They couldn’t speak English and they were being called, this was after 9/11 in 2004 they were being called words that they had no inclining of what they meant until years later,” said Dr. Kamal Ali, a friend of the Hussein family.
Dr. Ali is also an associate professor at Westfield State University and the Vice President of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts. This past week he asked the Hussein sisters to be featured in his Muslim women’s panel and his students listened to their story.
“Over the last seven or eight years, these young women, three of them, have been harassed by essentially the same group of students who have followed them lock step through the West Springfield school system,” said Ali.
Dreading going to school, they claim that the administration did nothing to intervene, so their parents took action.
“They had their daughters begin to document, on a regular basis the things that would go on in the classroom day to day,” said Ali. “It reads like a horror story.”
Now students at Westfield State are organizing a protest. Meanwhile, the West Springfield School Department is trying to open a dialogue.
“I’d like the opportunity to explain where the district is coming from, the efforts that we’ve undertaken and where we see the potential for continued partnership with his university,” said Russell Johnston, Superintendent of Schools in West Springfield.
West Springfield has many programs to build tolerance and battle bullying, from field trips to special training for teachers, poster contests and even student-run initiatives.
“A program called Training Active Bystanders, where students train each other in how to stand up to harm-doing. They are high school students that go to our middle school to teach this important lesson. And then also teach from within the high school. They are a core group, they are part of the life blood of our school,” explained Johnston.
Still, for now, the rift remains.
“This is about access to an education, it’s no more than that. It’s about being able to enjoy the privileges that tax payer dollars unfurl on all of us who want to send our kids to public schools and get the best out of that school,” Ali said.
Superintendent Johnston said that their response to the issue of bullying is a marathon, not a sprint, and that they will continue the marathon of helping to support all students in West Springfield.