School official in Kuwait ‘fears for her safety’ after suspending children 7

Katherine Phillips, a US citizen in Kuwait, cannot leave the country and is in fear of her life, because her by-the-book punishment of three fifth graders pissed off the wrong kind of parent.In Kuwait, it seems, it is dangerous to make influential parents unhappy, particularly if you are a single female in a position of supposed authority. Phillips is apparently stranded in Kuwait, and US State Department officials seem unable or unwilling to assist her.

“I am in fear for my safety,” she wrote in an email sent today to Internationals School Review. “I do not feel safe. I am not safe.”

Phillips has been middle school vice-principal of the Al-Bayan Bilingual School for six years. In March 2006, she sent three boys to in-school suspension for fighting, a standard school procedure, according to her own account.

That afternoon, one of the boy’s fathers, Fawaz Khalid Al Marzouq, called Phillips and in the course of a very brief, angry conversation threatened to “destroy her.” He did nothing immediately.

In fact, things apparently settled down, after she and the parents met with other school officials. The angry father moved his son to a different school that June. Meanwhile, the education ministry advised the Al-Bayan Bilingual School that in-school suspensions were now forbidden.

Then in February this year, Phillips learned that a case had been filed against her with the local police department. The charge was “illegal detainment” of Al Marzouq’s misbehaving son. After interviews, the situation again seemed to be settled …

… Until Phillips tried to fly to Bahrain on June 13. Airport officials told her she could not leave Kuwait because there was a criminal case pending against her. US State Department officials there offered no apparent help, and her files seemed to be in a perpetual state of limbo.

On the 20th, Phillips said she was informed that the travel ban against her had been lifted, but by the end of the day, it had been imposed again at the apparent instigation of the powerful Al Marzouq. So she is stranded in country while an angry parent continues a personal vendetta against her.

I am reproducing her email here, since it was released by ISR to its maillist subscribers and is posted on the ISR website. If enough of us ask the US Embassy in Kuwait and the Kuwaiti embassy here what is going on, perhaps Philliips will either be allowed to leave or Al Marzouq be persuaded to back off his vendetta.

FROM: Katherine Phillips, Al-Bayan Bilingual School Middle School Deputy Principal, Kuwait

US PASSPORT NUMBER: xxxxx9279 – (contact ISR if needed)

TO: Whom It May Concern

DATE: June 21, 2007

RE: Detained in Kuwait/In Fear for My Safety

I am a Middle School Vice-Principal at Al-Bayan Bilingual School in Kuwait. I have been employed in Kuwait for 6 years at the same school. One of my primary responsibilities is student discipline. On March 8, 2006, three boys in grade 5 were suspended for fighting. I interviewed the boys, met with my principal and followed normal procedure. There is no stigma here regarding suspension. Students spend the day in the office where they study, are visited by teachers, and are taken to the canteen, etc. It’s a normal consequence for fighting; all students are aware of this and the procedure is clearly defined in our Parent Handbook.

In the afternoon of March 8th, I received a phone call from one of the boys’ fathers, Mr. Fawaz Khalid Al Marzouq, who is a powerful man in Kuwait. He called to inform me that this situation was “personal,” that he is “friends with the emir” and that he planned to “destroy” me. This conversation, which last about 9 minutes, was littered with profanities and threats.

On March 11, 2006, the parents met with me, my principal and our director, Dr. Brian McCauley, to discuss the suspension. The father requested that if there was an issue involving his child that I would call him immediately.

On April 27, 2006, I was requested to write a synopsis of events and to visit the Ministry of Education to answer questions regarding the suspension, describe the room in which the boys spent the school day and provide a copy of our handbook.

In June 2006, the father transferred his children to a different private school in Kuwait. Also, we received notification from the Ministry of Education that in-school suspensions were no longer to be applied; instead, parents must be contacted to take their children home.

In February 2007, I learned that a case had been filed against me at the Jabriya Police Department in Kuwait; the charge was “illegal detainment” of his son on March 8, 2006. I answered questions in my director’s presence and the Consul from the US Embassy, Mr. Sonny Busa. My lawyer was also present. The police did not suggest that there was any reason for me to be concerned as all of the questions were answered to the apparent satisfaction.

On June 13, 2007, I was at the Kuwait International Airport intending to fly to Bahrain. I was stopped at immigration where I was informed that there was a case against me, pending further investigation and that a travel ban had been placed on me. I had not been informed. My lawyer had not been informed. This travel ban was placed upon me 15 months after the boy was suspended. The parent said that he would make this personal and this seems to be what he is intent upon doing.

On Saturday, June 16, 2007, I visited the American Embassy where I met with the Vice Consul, Mr. Jared Caplan, who informed me that he sympathized but could do nothing to lift the travel ban. He suggested that I get an older Kuwaiti man to appeal to Mr. Marzouq. I was told on Wednesday that my file would be transferred to another agency for review so the ban could be lifted. Five working days later, the whereabouts of my file are uncertain. I have been told that my file is in 2 different places; this seems to be a delay tactic. Why? Because I angered an influential Kuwaiti national who is at the top of the social register both locally and at the US Embassy?

On I visited the office of a police inspector named Falah Al Otaibi, whose office is in Salmiya. He is a police official who was to evaluate my file and determine if I could leave or not. He stated that he didn’t have my file. I visited him on June 17th and 18th. On June 18th, not five minutes after I left his office with my director, the Business Officer of my school and another school representative, I called Mr. Jared Caplan, Vice-Consul at the US Embassy to gain his insight into the situation and to see if any progress had been made to help me leave. He was completely aware of my visit to Mr. Al Otaibi’s office and instructed that I not return as it “interfered.”

Several Kuwaiti families are aware of my situation but they are not in a position to help or they don’t want to get involved. They have ALL said that I should go to my embassy because my embassy can help me. The fact that the embassy can’t seems shocking to everyone. Many people also question why this accusation from Mr. Marzouk is placed solely on me – not the school, not the principal, not the director of school. I feel that I am being used as an example because I am a single, American woman and he wants to show others that he can do what he said which is to “destroy” me.

Yesterday, June 20, 2007, I received a paper from Mr. Al Otaibi’s office in Salmiya which lifted the travel ban. This waiver had been granted by the Kuwait Minister of the Interior. Not long after the Minister released me, he reverted his decision at the request of the Marzouq family or his representatives. I went to the airport last night, only to learn that I couldn’t leave.

I am in fear for my safety. If the Embassy can’t help me, then who can? I contacted the FBI in Riyad, Saudi Arabia yesterday and talked to “Mike” who couldn’t give me his last name. He was non-committal but did suggest that he thought the embassy should be able to get me out.

Mr. Sonny Busa has informed me that they are “working on it.” That seems a little vague and I am not sure if the US Embassy completely realizes the level of danger that I feel that I am in. Why does Mr. Marzouq want me in Kuwait during the summer when no one from my school will be in country to offer their support? To make me feel vulnerable? He is well-connect and his friends are supporting his mission to damage me in any way that he can. What’s next?

I do not feel safe. I am not safe. I need someone from the US to acknowledge the urgency of my situation and coordinate my release. I committed no crime. I am simply the victim of “wasta” which roughly translates into “influence/pressure” at a high level.

My mobile phone number is: 965-6298331

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7 thoughts on “School official in Kuwait ‘fears for her safety’ after suspending children

  1. Reply blkgrl Jun 25,2007 9:08 am

    How terrible this woman can be detained in such a manner and the US Embassy not be able to assist. I thought that’s what they are supposed to do. Hopefully, she’s trying to make her way out for good. When contacting the embassies, any suggestions on what to say? I’m not sure of embassial (yea, not a real word) protocol.

  2. Reply eljefe Jun 25,2007 11:48 pm

    blkgrl — A simple email addressed to the consul or ambassador would suffice.

    Jack — I doubt Katherine will see your message here, but thanks for the thoughts anyway.

  3. Reply Jack Saunders Jun 25,2007 3:22 pm

    Hi Katherine
    I’m sorry to hear that you’re having wasta problems. It seems like you are being made into another example of how power and influence can be (and are) used in an abusive manner in Kuwait.
    No doubt it is difficult being stuck in Kuwait at the end of the school year and the start of summer hols. This episode will sure be a test of your patience & fortitude.
    Keep after the US embassy. Sometimes you meet the wrong person, then get ahold of the right one who gets things done on a 2nd or 3rd try.
    Perhaps getting news coverage in the US might help put pressure on the Kuwaitis & / or the US. Do you have contacts stateside that can get your story into print?
    Good luck with it!
    Jack Saunders

  4. Reply Sally Jun 27,2007 8:02 am

    I would be interested in hearing the Kuwaiti side of this story. Is Kathrine as “innocent” as she sounds? Probably not.

  5. Reply wheatdogg Jun 27,2007 9:04 am

    I would like to know their side as well, but I see no reason to doubt much of what she says in her letter. Teachers in the US experience parental over-reaction frequently, though gratefully on a milder level. Bullying teachers in Kuwait is not uncommon.

    The Arab Times has reported on Phillips plight, as has a Kuwait blogger. Meanwhile, the ISR has a travel advisory against teachers visiting or staying in Kuwait. The advisory supports her story.

  6. Reply tigermarks Jul 3,2007 2:08 am

    I have second hand (spouse and friends) experience of the abusive environment
    teachers often have to work in in Kuwait. People have been known to be
    physically attached by parents who are often concerned only with having their
    children get good marks and not with learning anything. While there are a lot
    of very kind and good people in Kuwait, this does not absolve the system
    from dealing with the negative aspects and protecting teachers.

    Yes, teachers can sometimes be guilty of something themselves, with some expats
    getting caught up in drugs and other offences; but they desrve a system that
    can give them a fair chance. Having said that, I have no reason to doubt this
    lady’s story.

  7. Pingback: Kuwait » Blog Archive » Kuwait projects $10.3bn deficit

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