A lawsuit has been filed against the City of Wilmington after a teacher and her young Muslim students were asked to leave a public pool back in June.
Members of Darul Amaanah Academy, an Islamic youth enrichment program, say they’ve been repeatedly harassed by management and staff at the Foster Brown Pool.
They say the pool manager even called the police on them, and were asked to leave because they were wearing cotton clothing and head scarves.
In July, Mayor Mike Purzycki, D-Wilmington, issued an apology.
But attorney Juvaria Khan of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy organization, said despite issuing a cease and desist letter last month, the city has done little to address the alleged discrimination.
“This is an organization founded decades ago by the African-American community that’s been in Wilmington for generations and is really seeking to create a safe space for children to learn a about their culture and faith and instill them with self-confidence and self-respect for who they are,” she said.
“So the actions of this summer and being targeted repeatedly because of their faith and their background has undermined those goals completely. Bringing this lawsuit for the plaintiffs is a way to reclaim what they set out to do from day one, which is make sure these kids have a safe environment where they can exist as they are.”
A spokesperson for the city said it is reviewing the lawsuit, but declined to comment.
The lawsuit alleges the city violated the group’s constitutional rights by repeatedly targeting them based on their religious beliefs.
“There’s pretty clear evidence here there’s no written policy in place that would justify these actions,” Khan said.
“To the extent they’re trying to allege there is a policy that exists it’s being applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner against these children in particular when there are plenty of other patrons at the pool wearing similar clothing, such as a T-shirt or shorts, because for many people who go to the city’s public pools that’s the type of clothing they can afford to wear and none of those individuals are getting targeted.”
The lawsuit asks the city to create clear written pool policies that also ensure religious rights are respected. It also wants the city to train staff on the policy and post adequate notice so patrons understand the rules. Khan said the goal is not monetary compensation, but to ensure the discrimination ends and to allow the kids to heal.
“This is involving a lot of really young kids, some of them as young as 5 and 6 years old, who have been scarred by this experience, coming home regularly, crying to their parents, and asking, ‘Why do people hate Muslims?’” she said. “Some of the kids are scared to go back to any pool, some of the kids have stopped wearing head scarves. It’s really had a lasting impact and traumatized these children to a large degree.”
You can read the lawsuit in its entirety below.