Suriyah Bi to take case to court after being fired by Heartlands Academy in Birmingham for raising concernsA teaching assistant who was sacked for objecting to young children being shown graphic footage of the 9/11 attacks has turned down a compensation offer from the school and has vowed to fight the case in court.
Suriyah Bi, 24, an Oxford University graduate, was dismissed from the Heartlands Academy in Birmingham, when she raised concerns about the footage of people jumping to their deaths.
Bi felt it was inappropriate for her class of 11- and 12-year-old special needs children to see footage of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001.
She claims the class teacher had to log-in to her personal YouTube account to override the site’s age-appropriate warning, which said the video – titled “Can you imagine how bad it must be up there?” – was unsuitable for under-18s.
The following day, Bi raised the issue, along with several other unrelated concerns. Just over an hour later she was dismissed.
The class of about 30 children had been studying Out of the Blue, a poem by Simon Armitage that reflects on the events of 9/11. As part of the lesson they were shown footage of the attack on the twin towers.
The school has offered Bi £11,000 in compensation for loss of earnings, 15 months after she was first dismissed.
But Bi, the eldest of eight siblings from the Alum Rock area of Birmingham, has rejected the payout and is seeking an apology and is prepared to take the case to a full employment tribunal in December.
She said: “I raised what I felt was a valid concern. This video was incredibly graphic – bodies were falling from the building and there were closeup shots. It was not appropriate.”
Bi, who is studying for a PhD in human geography, was dismissed from the school on 23 September 2015, less than a fortnight after she started the job. Following her dismissal, Bi discovered that school staff had raised concerns about her background and questioned whether she should work in schools again.
A safeguarding checklist filled out three days after her dismissal, seen by the Guardian, said Bi had raised concerns about the footage only because it offended her as a Muslim.
Bi said: “That is simply not true. What happened on 9/11 was a crime and I as a Muslim do not agree with it. To even suggest that I only raised this because of my religion is deeply offensive. My only concern was for the children, their vulnerability and an attempt at safeguarding them.”
The same document also mentioned Bi’s position as head girl at Saltley School and questioned her suitability as a teaching assistant. The school was implicated in the “Trojan Horse” affair in 2013, when an anonymous letter to Birmingham city council claimed that Islamic extremists had planned to take over state-run schools.
Bi said: “I was made to feel like an extremist because I wanted to protect these children. I was studying at Oxford during the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair. To imply that I may have been involved just shows the level of prejudice I have experienced from management at the academy.”
Birmingham MP Liam Byrne has called for the education secretary to investigate the case. He added: “At every step, an unaccountable academy giant has tried to shut down and smother Suriyah Bi’s voice – and then try to have her blacklisted. Yet Suriyah’s only ‘crime’ was speaking up for children.”
The school referred the Guardian to E-Act, the academy’s sponsor, for comment. The company, which is expected to contest Bi’s claims at the tribunal, said: “The employment case with Ms Bi is still ongoing, and as such we have no further comment at this time.”
The case is due to start on 5 December and is expected to last five days if a mutual agreement is not reached at a mediation hearing on 23 November.