RIDGEFIELD, N.J. -- An Arab American student said a teacher answered his question about homework with a remark on terrorists, making the high school senior feel uncomfortable and shocking fellow classmates Tuesday morning.
Mohammed Zubi told our sister station WABC that he asked the teacher for permission to finish an assignment at home during math class at Ridgefield Memorial High School, located about 3 miles west of New York City in Bergen County, New Jersey.
"He responded saying, 'We don't negotiate with terrorists,'" Zubi told WABC.
The 17-year-old Zubi, who is also Muslim, said the entire class and another teacher heard the comment.
"I look around in shock," Zubi said. "There's people laughing, and there's other people in shock. I turn around and ask my friend, 'Did he really just say that?' and she said, 'Yes.'"
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, young American Muslims have grown up facing hostility, mistrust and suspicion. In a 2017 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Muslims, nearly half of respondents said they experienced at least one instance of religious discrimination within the year before.
Fellow senior Nicholas Velez said he also heard the remark and reacted in shock.
"The teacher got close to him and said, 'We don't negotiate with terrorists,' knowing that Mohammed is Arabic and Muslim," Vuk Tomasese, another senior, told WABC.
The teacher, whose identity has not been verified, later approached Zubi and said, "I didn't mean it like that," according to a statement from the Council on American-Islamic Relations' New Jersey chapter.
"It's almost unbelievable. We're left speechless. Why would a teacher say this to a student?" said Selaedin Maksut, CAIR-NJ's executive director.
Zubi, captain of the school soccer team, has not returned to school since the teacher's aside.
"I don't feel like going back. I'm really uncomfortable," he said. "I don't want to see anyone, and I've been in my room all day -- don't want to see my friends, especially after what that teacher said to me."
Zubi's mother worked at Ridgefield High, and his older siblings graduated from the high school. His older brother, Anas Zubi, said he finds the remark very disturbing.
"To see my little brother, a minority, 17 years old, to hear a comment like that, it broke my heart," he said.
WABC reached out to the school superintendent for comment. A spokesperson said the issue was a "personnel matter" and that the district has nothing more to say at this point.