Activists fight for educator union-backed initiative to prevent bullying of Muslim students

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by Alexis McKenney and David Sheridan

Soon after the San Diego School Board launched a new initiative to make its schools safer and more welcoming for Muslim students, their program came under attack by right-wing extremist media, including “Breitbart.”

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The “Angry Patriot” website reported the story with this headline: “Islamic takeover confirmed—American school surrenders to Sharia law.”

Then an organization called the Freedom Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) sued the district to stop the Muslim anti-bullying program, claiming the district’s plan violates the U.S. and California constitutions. The attorney for FCDF told the press: “Quite frankly, Christians are getting tired of being kicked around. You can’t call Christmas vacation ‘Christmas vacation’ anymore. It’s got to be called ‘winter holiday’.”

Unfazed by the right-wing backlash, the president of the San Diego Education Association, Lindsay Burningham, describes the new district policy as “a step in the right direction to making schools safe and welcoming environments for all students, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.”

Stan Anjan, executive director of Family and Community Engagement at the district, has reassured the public that the San Diego School system has no intention of teaching Islam as religion or implementing Sharia law. Rather, the district’s multifaceted plan would roll out resources and curriculum about Islamic culture and history to help non-Muslim students better understand Muslims. In addition, the district would provide educational material to families and educators about Islamophobia and would recognize Islamic holidays.

Kevin Beiser, the San Diego School Board’s first openly gay member, was  instrumental three years ago in creating the district’s program to prevent the bullying of LGBTQ students, and today he is a major backer of the new initiative to support Muslim students. “My hope is that our continued effort to stop bullying will help students grow up to appreciate diverse cultures,” says Beiser.

The San Diego School Board acted after hearing testimony from Muslim parents about the bullying of their children. In addition, the board took note of a survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that showed 55 percent of Muslim students in California reported being bullied at school because of their religion. CAIR has also documented an uptick across the nation in the bullying of American Muslim students “following Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election.”

“If we do this right,” says Hanif Mohebia, executive director of CAIR’s San Diego office, “the San Diego Unified School District would be the leading school district in the nation to come up with a robust and beautiful anti-bullying and anti-Islamophobic program.”

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