PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Syed Naqvi is a brilliant young man, his mother and father will tell you.
They’re proud of his many academic awards. He enjoyed his time at Saint Dominic Parish School in the Holmesburg section of Northeast Philadelphia.
“Always wanted to be there every single day,” he said. “[I] never wanted to leave sometimes.”
A defining moment for the 16-year-old happened in seventh grade. On the heels of the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, where 14 people were killed, Syed says classmates began calling him “ISIS.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m brown and I’m from the Middle East,” he said.
Syed is Asian and Pakistani and he shared the same first name with the gunman in that deadly massacre. He and his parents reported the incident to school teachers and the principals, they say. They say nothing was ever done about it.
“I felt different, because of this. And socially discriminated, outcasted,” said Syed.
The Naqvi family has filed a federal race discrimination lawsuit against Saint Dominic Parish School and the Philadelphia Archdiocese, based largely on what happened next.
“It was my first time I had to do a stop motion presentation on PowerPoint,” he said. “So it may have looked awkward or weird,” Syed recounts.
Or to some at Saint Dominic, including former principal Kathleen Bruce, the animation smelled of something much worse, according to the lawsuit — it was violent, possibly even terrorism.
“Was It terrorism,” CBS3 asked.
“No it was not,” Syed said. “I had no thought of terrorism or single blink of that. I made it to fit in, because a lot of people like stuff like that.”
The project, called “A Tour of Philadelphia,” featured a sports car doing doughnuts outside the school. There was Philly Jesus, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ice Cube and Rocky.
A spaceship is seen blowing up a car. The teacher seized the presentation. Syed was suspended for a week.
The lawsuit claims Principal Bruce contacted the FBI.
“I remember I saw it for the first time,” said Neelima Vanguri, who represents the Naqvi family.
“I couldn’t believe that was what all this fuss and stink was about. I think any 7th-grade boy does things like that,” Vanguri added.
Shocked and embarrassed, federal agents visited the family of seven to check out the PowerPoint.
“Two agents came to my home and told me how awesome [the project] was and they liked it,” Syed said.
But, the Naqvi’s five children were forced to withdraw from Saint Dominic, under a cloud of suspicion and shame
“The school is trying to say he is a terrorist,” CBS3 asked.
“Yes,” Mustreen Naqvi responded. “I said my kids have been here since the kindergarten and I’ve been working here since, everyone in the school knew me.”
Mrs. Naqvi said she had been a part of the parish school community for seven years and was even vice president of the school board.
The archdiocese declined to comment, citing its policy on pending litigation.
As for former principal Kathleen Bruce, we left messages for her at her new school, St. Aloysius in Pottstown. She never got back to us.
The suit seeks in excess of $150,000.