SDUSD Board approves plan to address Islamaphobia

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SDUSD Board approves plan to address Islamaphobia

Photo courtesy of ebrahim | pixabay

Photo courtesy of ebrahim | pixabay

Photo courtesy of ebrahim | pixabay

Photo courtesy of ebrahim | pixabay

Michele Leivas, Editor

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The bully and his (or her) posse of followers have always been an unfortunate staple of any schoolyard. In a bygone era, these individuals would harass meeker students, singling out “nerds” on the playground for public humiliation or shaking other targets down for lunch money in the cafeteria.

That was then; the present-day bully has evolved to be much more vicious in his attacks and much more specific in selecting his victims.

According to “Mislabeled: The Impact of School Bullying and Discrimination on California Muslim Students,” a 2015 report issued by the California chapter of the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR), more than 55 percent of Muslim students stated that they have been bullied because of their faith.

CAIR San Diego director Hanif Mohebi has been working with San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to implement a plan of action to address Islamophobia within SDUSD schools.

Many years ago, in 2011 and 2012, we had many students and their parents come to our office essentially saying that they’d been bullied,” Mohebi said.

Spurred by these reports, Mohebi said his organization then turned to its contacts within the school district, who in turn said they would look into these allegations. The feedback CAIR received was less than encouraging.

Mohebi stated, “They would come back and say, ‘The number of Muslim students who are reporting bullying is insignificant and therefore, we can work with you in all other areas, but on this area we already have (general) anti-bullying workshops.”

These responses, Mohebi said, were precisely why CAIR began conducting these surveys of Muslim students.

“All we want is for people to know that discrimination is not acceptable, bullying is not acceptable, regardless of who you are,” Mohebi said.

The SDUSD Anti-Bullying and Intimidation policy states that its schools “will not tolerate any student or staff member being bullied (including cyberbullying) or intimidated in any form at school or school-related events (…).”

While the policy states bullying includes any acts “reasonably perceived as being motivated either by an actual or perceived attribute” including (but not limited to) religion, up until now, there has been no specific course of action to address or prevent the targeting of Muslim students.

 At an SDUSD board meeting last Tuesday, board members voted unanimously to change this. Grade school children spoke to board members directly and recounted instances of faith-targeted bullying.

During the board meeting, one of the speakers, a 6th grade girl, reporting her experiences with a group of three bullies. The harassment began with name-calling, which the student reported to a teacher. When the teacher neglected to address it, the bullying escalated to threats and physical abuse.

“The boys started hitting me, punching me (and) kicking me,” she said. “They also hurt my eyes. At another incident, the boys pushed me and caused my teeth to bleed.”

For this student – and many others with similar stories – the problem is not just the bullies themselves, but also teachers or faculty who fail to intervene and put a stop to such behavior.

“I love most of my teachers and I always looked up to them to make me feel safe,” she said. “However in this class, the teacher was a problem for me.”

According to an NBC article on the issue, the superintendent will be working alongside the Muslim community to develop strategies to recognize Islamaphobic bullying and prevent it from continuing. Schools will be compiling monthly data on these occurrences and posting these numbers online.