The family of a special education student is suing a Long Island, New York, school district for $25 million, alleging their 12-year-old son was forced to falsely confess to belonging to ISIS and to planning to blow up the school.
The federal lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in New York’s Eastern District, accuses East Islip Middle School administrators of violating Nashwan Uppal’s constitutional rights when they allegedly coerced him into saying he was a terrorist and had bombs, searched through his belongings and locker, and for a period of time refused to let him contact his mother.
The January meeting with administrators came a day after older students, the lawsuit alleges, harassed Uppal in the cafeteria for 10 to 15 minutes, repeatedly calling him a terrorist and asking “what he was going to blow up next.” Hoping to make the bullying stop, Uppal, a Pakistani-American Muslim with extensive social and language disabilities, said he was a terrorist and would blow up the school fence, court papers said.
Uppal, a seventh grader at the time who received language and speech therapy twice a week, thought the word “terrorist” was similar in meaning to “tourist,” the lawsuit said. He also said the word “fence” because it was the first thing he saw when he looked out the cafeteria window, the lawsuit said.
It wasn’t immediately clear if school officials were aware of the alleged bullying and, if they were, how they became aware of it.
Reached by telephone, East Islip Union Free School District spokesman Michael Ganci told NBC News the district doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Uppal’s ordeal with school administrators began on Jan. 7, during his final period gym class, when he was summoned to the assistant principal’s office, the lawsuit alleges. The principal, who joined the meeting, closed the door, and the assistant principal allegedly began screaming at Uppal, the suit said.
Uppal was repeatedly asked whether he was a terrorist and whether he made bombs in his house or knew how to make bombs, the suit alleges. When Uppal said “no,” the assistant principal allegedly shouted, “Yes you do,” and, “Don’t lie to us,” court papers said.
Uppal was also asked, “Do you know who Osama is?” referring to Osama Bin Laden, and if he was a part of ISIS, the lawsuit alleges.
Uppal was then taken to another room, where his backpack, wallet, and cellphone were searched, court papers said. He was also told his locker was being searched, according to the suit.
Before being allowed to gather his belongings, Uppal was told to write out a confession that said “he was part of ISIS, that he knew how to make bombs, that he had bombs in his house, and that he was going to blow up the school,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Upon finding nothing of consequence, the police told [Amar] and [Uppal] that the ‘case was closed,’”
Under what the lawsuit said was “extreme duress,” Uppal instead wrote that he said he was a terrorist and said he would blow up the school fence, according to court documents.
Angered that Uppal’s confession did not include the part about ISIS, the bombs, and blowing up the school, the assistant principal tore up the confession and made Uppal write a second one, the lawsuit alleges. Uppal penned the same thing again, court papers said. The assistant principal grabbed the confession and stormed out of the room, the suit alleges.
Uppal was then brought to the principal’s office, where he was met by the assistant principal, school security, and several police officers, who were reportedly contacted by school administrators, court papers said. Unaware of what was going on inside, Uppal’s mother, who was six months pregnant, was waiting outside the school for her son, calling and texting him, court papers said.
Uppal was eventually permitted to answer his phone and was told to tell his mom, Nubaisha Amar, to come to the principal’s office, the lawsuit said.
A distraught Amar was informed her son confessed to being part of ISIS, knowing how to make bombs, and saying he’d blow up the school, the lawsuit alleges. The principal told Amar that Uppal was suspended for “criminal activity” for one week and barred from school grounds, the lawsuit said. Uppal’s entire absence actually lasted one month, court papers said.
A squad car brought Uppal and Amar to a police station, and later that evening officers searched their entire home, including computers and Uppal’s phone, the lawsuit alleges.
“Upon finding nothing of consequence, the police told [Amar] and [Uppal] that the ‘case was closed,’” the suit said.
The $25 million lawsuit — which names the East Islip School District, the East Islip Middle School, and three administrators — alleges Uppal was intentionally harassed and discriminated against because he is of Pakistani descent and of Islamic faith.
It also accuses the school district, school, and administrators of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as Uppal’s constitutional right to be free of unlawful searches, his right against self-incrimination, and the Equal Protection Clause.
An initial conference was set for the morning of Dec. 19.