The San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has been working with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on “anti-Islamophobia” plans, including adding lessons on Islam in social studies classes and adding Muslim “safe spaces” to campuses.
The plan is to be implemented in the fall with the start of the new school year.
The school district’s board voted recently to approve the Islamophobia plan it set in motion last summer after a November 2015 recognition of CAIR’s educational work. The April 4 vote was 4-0, with one member missing from the meeting, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
More details are expected to be released before the end of the school year. Staff members and parents will receive letters directing them to resources to learn about Islam and fight discrimination.
District executive director of Family and Community Engagement Stan Anjan stated that social studies lessons may feature more on prominent Muslims in history, and how to promote a positive image of Islam according to the Tribune. Discipline for perceived bullying of Muslims is also set to be amended.
Executive Director of the San Diego chapter of CAIR, Hanif Mohebi, said upon the recent vote, “If we do this right, San Diego Unified School District would be the leading school district in the nation to come up with a robust and beautiful anti-bully and anti-Islamophobic program” according to the Tribune report.
Last July, San Diego Unified approved creation of an anti-Islamophobia and anti-bullying plan with urging from CAIR San Diego. More than 200 members and supporters of the Muslim community were present and cheered upon board members’ passage of the initiative, according to KPBS. Executive director Mohebi used a CAIR study that said it asked students and 55 percent claimed to have been bullied.
San Diego Unified School District posted in an online Q&A on the forthcoming plan:
Regarding all students, we work hard to protect students from bullying and discrimination. That is why we recently implemented an online bullying reporting mechanism to allow students to make their voices heard without fear. The closest model for our Islamophobia work is the work we have done within the LGBTQIA community in recent years. That program has assigned staff and serves students and other departments through trainings, curriculum review and other activities. In addition, they help students organize and maintain Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs in many of our schools. Again, our LGBTQIA work is simply a model for the Islamophobia work, and there will obviously be unique situations to address in each community.
“CAIR has been very generous with their time, providing advice and guidance to the district on ways to prevent bullying against Muslim students. They have not been paid, nor are they under contract with the district,” the school district website states.
The district specifically addressed whether it is implementing Sharia Law, claiming that they are not. The district goes on to state that it is not violating separation of church and state and is not endorsing Islam.
In regards to creating safe spaces for Muslim students, the district states: “Schools with large Muslim communities may choose to make areas available for prayer, if that is requested by their parents and students.”
In 2007, the Union-Tribune reported on allegations that a school aide at Carver Elementary led Muslim students in prayer, according to an online post on Michelle Malkin’s website. (A link to the original Tribune article went to the paper’s website, but the article appears to no longer be at that web address.) The school had recently added Arabic to its curriculum to accommodate in influx of Somali Muslim students.
In March 2016, San Diego Unified highlighted the creation of halal meals at Crawford High School, “according to Islamic law and traditions,” and with the input of students. The school is located in an area of San Diego heavily populated with Muslim refugees. CAIR has previously promoted plans for the halal meals.
In an interview with PRI, the San Diego school district’s head of food services cited the success of halal options in Dearborn, Michigan schools, home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the U.S. The report noted that almost all of the students at the City Heights school, at least a decade ago, were recipients of free school lunch. The report added that five local elementary schools had also recently adopted similar halal meal programs.
CAIR San Diego lauded SDUSD’s initiative to “combat Islamophobia” in an announcement that noted, “Some 150 members of San Diego’s Muslim community were present” during the early April passage of the initiative. The group also stated that SDUSD collaborated with CAIR-San Diego, in line with California’s AB 2845, the Safe Place to Learn Act.
CAIR-San Diego Executive Director Hanif Mohebi said, “Other school districts should follow this lead, and we will be happy to work with them to provide resources and trainings.”
Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana