Lawsuit alleges Atlanta principal banned Muslim bus driver for praying

An Atlanta Public Schools bus driver says a local principal won’t allow her inside one of her assigned schools because she is a Muslim, according to a federal lawsuit.

Twanesia Crawford, who filed the suit against the school system, said she hasn’t been allowed inside Hope-Hill Elementary School since the principal caught her praying on an empty school bus during her break in October 2015.

Twanesia Crawford (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

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“I can’t go in,” Crawford tearfully told Channel 2 Action News. “I have to use the bathroom at a gas station.”

An Atlanta Public Schools official told Channel 2 a similar lawsuit filed by Crawford against the principal was dismissed in 2015.

Crawford started driving buses for APS in 1996 and says used time after dropping children at school to pray because part of her Islamic faith is to pray daily before the sun rises, according to a lawsuit filed in Atlanta’s district court.

On Oct. 29, 2015, Crawford’s bus became blocked in and she couldn’t get out of the parking lot, the lawsuit states.

“Since it was still dark, and given that Ms. Crawford was unable to move her bus with other vehicles in her path, Ms. Crawford took the time to lower her head and raise her palms in silent prayer,” the lawsuit states.

The principal knocked on the bus window and asked Crawford what she was doing, Crawford’s attorney, A.J. Lakraj, told Channel 2.

“She said, ‘I'm praying to Allah,’” Lakraj said. “She had her palms raised and the principal said, 'You can't do that here. You need to leave.’”

After that interaction, Crawford had to use the restroom and the principal waited by the door as Crawford used the restroom and then followed her as she left the school, the lawsuit states. Two days later, on Nov. 6, 2015, Crawford alleges that the principal blocked the bus driver from entering the building.

The lawsuit further alleges that on Nov. 13, 2015, after entering Hope-Hill Elementary School to use the restroom, the principal followed Crawford and told her: “I don’t want you in the building. I don’t want to see you here anymore.”

That’s when Crawford called police. She followed up by filing a grievance with the director of transportation about a month later, citing violation of her religious freedom, the lawsuit states.

The principal is not named in the current lawsuit, which was filed in January 2016.