Student expelled after turban fire

May 13, 2008 4:59:52 PM PDT
A high school student from New Jersey has been expelled and is facing criminal charges for allegedly setting a fellow student's turban on fire. The move comes as members of the Sikh community there are increasingly worried about the growing number of attacks in the area.

The student was attacked at Hightstown High School.

Eyewitness News reporter Tim Fleischer has the story.

It was the strongest measures the school system could have taken in dealing with this dangerous incident. The suspect, 18-year-old Garrett Green, has also been charged with arson and criminal mischief.

"He's been put out of school for the rest of the year," superintendent Ronald Bolandi said. "All his privilidges have been revoked.

East Windsor school officials took the most severe action in expelling Green after his arrest for allegedly setting fire to the patka, or small turban, worn at the time by a Sikh student.

"When you light somebody on fire, whether it be a coat, a turban, hair, regardless of what it is, it's a serious act," Bolandi said. "That child could have been seriously hurt."

"It's a bad day for New Jersey, it's a bad day for the Sikh community," Sikh Coalition legal director Amardeep Singh said.

Singh echoed despair after the frightening attack, in which the 16-year-old Sikh student was slightly burned. The incident left him and his family extremely upset.

"We as parents should not be afraid to send our kids to school," the victim's uncle, Harjob Pannu said.

Pannu and the Sikh Coalition have heightened concerns as well, after they claim there have been six separate incidents against Sikh students in different districts in the past three years.

"Unfortunately, kids don't understand that making fun of a somebody's turban is like calling an African-American student the N-word or making an anti-Jewish epithet," Singh said. "That you're going against who we are as a people."

"Not only was it a fire issue and an arson issue, we also have an issue where there is a religious symbol involved here," Bolandi said. "We need to make sure everybody understands what it is."

And to Sikhs, the turban, they say, is an "article of faith" required by their religion.

"There should be, at the school level, there should be more education," Pannu said. "Students should be taught about other faiths."

School officials are now hoping to implement programs for their students.

"To make sure everyone understands how important this is to the Sikh community and how important it is to our community to understand tolerance," Bolandi said.