A seventh-grade student at Congress Middle School claimed that four boys cornered her in the hallway, made derogatory remarks about her Muslim heritage, pulled at her hijab, or headscarf, and called her “Osama” as they beat her across the face with a belt.
On Thursday, the Palm Beach Post reported that when investigators from the Palm Beach County School Board interviewed the girl this week, she denied that any of the boys called her Osama a reference to al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden.
The paper said the unnamed girl’s family stands by the rest of the story, however, insisting the girl was targeted because of her Muslim headscarf and harassed.
“It appears that somebody embellished the story,” school district spokesman Nat Harrington told the Post. “This greatly concerns us. We want to get at the facts.”
The girl told school officials she could not identify the boys, but that a teacher responded to her complaints about the alleged April 5 incident by saying only that “kids are like that.”
The girl’s family contacted a Muslim advocacy group, which demanded a police investigation into the incident that reportedly left the girl with a swollen lip. The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a press release Tuesday criticizing the school for not taking action, and demanding a police investigation.
The school district told NBC 6’s news partner The Fort-Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel on Thursday that the incident involved only “horseplay,” not violence or harassment.
Other elements of the girl’s story were being scrutinized on Thursday. A council spokesman said the girl’s family had filed a formal report with the campus police officer on Tuesday, but the Boynton Beach Police Department says it has no record of a complaint.
Harrington said the district is continuing its investigation, but hinted that the incident may not have been motivated by the girl’s ethnicity or religion.
“When children have a conflict, it’s not necessarily because of nationality,” Harrington said.