'Rag-head Taliban' teacher suspended for 5 days without pay

Father of student says punishment for Maria Valdes equals vacation

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A Cypress Bay High School teacher accused of calling a student a "rag-head Taliban" will be suspended for five days without pay.

Deyab-Houssein Wardani, 14, told his parents that his teacher, Maria Valdes, called him a rag-head Taliban when he came to French class last month wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

His father, Youssef Wardani, wanted Valdes fired for her remark, but the school board approved Broward County Public Schools superintendent Robert Runcie's recommendation for a five-day unpaid suspension.

"To me, at minimum, she should be suspended," Youssef Wardani told Local 10 News reporter Roger Lohse on Tuesday. "If they don't want to fire her, at minimum, suspend her for one year without pay. Five days, for her, she's going on vacation."

Youssef Wardani said a five-day suspension sends the wrong message.

"You all should be removed for bullying," Wardani shouted at school board members during a meeting Tuesday.

Wardani accused Runcie of not taking the case seriously. But Runcie, a Jamaican immigrant himself, fired back at the angry dad and shared his personal experience with discrimination. He spoke about a day as a young boy when his mother was shot in the face by a man who blamed Jamaicans for his inability to find work.

"I watched in horror as my mother struggled and collapse," Runcie said. "I thought I would never see her again."

Runcie touted the district's strong anti-bullying policy and its efforts to provide equal service to a diverse student population before defending his decision to punish the teacher Wardani wanted him to fire.

"I believe that we've handled this case appropriately and I urge the board to approve the recommended disciplinary action," Runcie said.

A collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union limited the degree of punishment that could be leveled against Valdes.

In addition to her suspension, Valdes must also participate in diversity training.

The Wardani family is considering legal action against the school district.

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