Newport Beach student suspended for remarks to another student, including "Free Palestine"

Corona del Mar High School
Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A Corona Del Mar Middle and High School student was suspended this week for remarks made to another student that included the words "Free Palestine," according to school officials and social media posts.

Annette Franco, a spokeswoman for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, confirmed that the student was suspended but declined to provide any details. She emphasized in an email to the Times that students are not disciplined for exercising their right to free speech.

"While we cannot share specifics of the situation, due to student privacy, we assure you that appropriate action was taken based on the facts of what occurred," she wrote in a statement. "We value students freedom of speech, but we will not tolerate hateful speech in our schools, especially not hate speech that incites others to engage in this negative behavior."

The incident comes about a month after swastikas were tagged on the locker of a Jewish student, and after Hamas militants launched a brutal attack on southern Israel, sparking an ongoing war that has left 1,200 Israelis and 11,000 Palestinians dead. Authorities are investigating the swastika incident as a hate crime.

The family of the student in the recent incident could not be reached for comment Saturday. But a woman identifying herself as Zeina on Instagram claimed she was the student's aunt. In her post, she provided details about the incident with a photo of the suspension letter written by Jacob Haley, the principal at Corona Del Mar Middle and High School.

In the suspension letter, the student is accused of violating two education codes that prohibits students from harassing and threatening other students. The letter read: "The incident that caused this suspension follows: [the student] said threatening remarks to a young lady in class. He said 'Free Palestine'."

The student, whom The Times is not naming because he is a minor, was suspended for three days.

In the Instagram post, the woman claimed her 13-year-old nephew had been called a "terrorist" by the female student and that her nephew responded by repeatedly saying, "Free Palestine".

The woman claimed it wasn't the first time her nephew had been harassed at school.

"Two weeks ago [he] was threatened with hate and racism comments by two Israeli students," she wrote in her post. "The Israeli students told him go back to your country which is [Palestine] and started laughing, saying oh too bad you don’t have a country it’s getting bombed."

The woman said her sister reported it to the principal who told her he would speak to the two boys and that neither of them got suspended. In the same social media post, the woman also took video and photos of a book on Israel that was sitting on the principal's desk, accusing him of being biased.

Franco, the spokeswoman for the district, did not know if the two students in the most recent incident were suspended.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.