Vt. school community concerned over 'Punish a Muslim Day'

Published: Mar. 26, 2018 at 10:27 PM EDT
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A local school district is worried about an international threat targeting Muslims.

A letter was anonymously delivered to several mosques in London declaring April 3 as "Punish a Muslim Day."

With that just days away, Muslims in Vermont fear they could be targeted.

"I still continue to be very angry about that," said Sean McMannon, the superintendent of the Winooski School District.

Monday morning, Muslim students told McMannon about "Punish a Muslim Day," an international threat set for April 3.

Winooski is Vermont's most diverse school district and McMannon says it's disappointing his students still have hateful rhetoric directed at their religion.

"They were very upset about it and they were very worried. Many of them have been through this before," said McMannon.

McMannon plans to send a memo to parents about the threat and says there will be conversations in the classroom to inform students, as well.

"You're basically punishing them for being Muslim, It's just horrible," said Cassandra Brosseau.

Brosseau is a junior at Winooski High School and says she can't imagine anything like that happening here.

"We all know each other, I don't think anyone would do that here," said Brosseau.

Parents we spoke with agree, but are saddened.

"Kids shouldn't have to feel worried about coming to school because they may be bullied for their culture or anything like that," said Alicia Whalon, a parent.

And while the threat has largely been directed overseas, it brings back bad memories here too. In 2016, the Islamic Society of Vermont -- where about 4,000 Muslims practice their religion -- received an anonymous letter in the mail.

"It was telling us that we do not belong here," said Taysir Al-Khatib, President of Islamic Society of Vermont. "In the beginning, we were shocked. But when we received the overwhelming support, it was something, we can digest easily."

In the weeks following the threat, the mosque received hundreds of personalized letters.

"Our mailbox was so full we couldn't even put letters in it to send out,” said Al-Khatib.

Al-Khatib says despite the previous threat he believes Vermont is the safest state for Muslims.

"You feel like you are welcomed and you feel like you are part of the community," Al-Khatib said.

When April 3 rolls around, both he and McMannon are confident Muslims in Vermont will be safe.