The saga of the clock kid, now entering its second month, keeps on ticking.
In September, Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old freshman at Irving MacArthur High in Irving, Tex., was arrested for building a device thought to be a bomb until it turned out to be a clock. Ahmed is Muslim, and accused his school of anti-Muslim bigotry. And, most memorably, he was invited to the White House, among many other places, as right-wing commentators seethed.
But the media had more questions. How had a problem seemingly easily explained in a classroom with a few words — It might look like something else, but it’s a clock — ended in Ahmed’s arrest? And, well, why didn’t Ahmed’s clock look like a clock?
Now, as school officials continue to cite privacy concerns in not discussing Ahmed, police are denying records requests about the student’s arrest — and more details about his past have emerged.
First came a story published Sept. 26 by the Dallas Morning News. The paper caught up with one of Ahmed’s middle school teachers.
“He was a weird little kid,” Ralph Kubiak, Ahmed’s seventh grade history teacher, told the paper. “I saw a lot of him in me. That thirst for knowledge … he’s one of those kids that could either be CEO of a company or head of a gang.”
The Dallas Morning News was told that Ahmed came into the school district in sixth grade with almost no English, but soon was fluent. That he was indeed an electronics whiz — but one who was sometimes bullied because of his religion, called “ISIS boy” and suspended for defending himself in a hallway fight. That when he was disciplined — for infractions such as building a remote control to turn off a classroom projector or blowing bubbles in class — he once recited the First Amendment.
“This kid was being pushed. At least he thought he was being pushed,” Kubiak said. “He’s got a habit for attracting or being in situations — being on the outside.”
Attempts to get more information about Ahmed from Irving Independent School District officials, meanwhile, have not borne fruit. The district will say that the media doesn’t have the whole truth, but won’t say anything else.
“Especially in those beginning days, there was a lot of erroneous information,” Lesley Weaver, the district’s director of communications, told The Washington Post in an interview last week. “That the teacher mistook the device for a bomb. The teacher never mistook it for a bomb or said she thought it was a bomb.”
But when questioned further, Weaver said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects students’ privacy, prevented her from saying more.
“It’s not like I just have a file waiting to be released,” Weaver said. “I don’t know what’s in the record. I know [FERPA] prevents us from talking about anything.”
And just this week, in response to records requests from The Post and the Dallas Morning News, among others, the Irving Police Department asked Texas’s attorney general, more or less, for permission not to release anything.
“The Irving Police Department has received requests for information which fall within exceptions to required disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act,” the letter, sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, read. “The Department has withheld that information, and requests an opinion from your office holding that the information is excepted from mandatory public disclosure.”
Citing relevant sections of the Texas Family Code, the department pointed out that juvenile justice information is confidential – and that the release of personnel files of three officers involved in Ahmed’s detention might prove dangerous.
“The police department and the school district received hundreds of e-mails, telephone calls, tweets and Facebook posts, a number of which impliedly conveyed threats (e.g. a picture of a sniper rifle with the annotation ‘time to go pig hunting’),” the letter read. “Some of the posts were from groups known to target officers and departments with hacking attacks or assaults on their credit. There is nothing of legitimate public interest in these files that outweighs the substantial risk of physical harm or fiscal harm to the officers involved.”
The letter concluded: “The City of Irving and Irving Police Department ask for an opinion that the personnel files may be withheld under these very unusual circumstances.”
Mohamed and his attorneys have not replied to The Post’s requests for comment.