SAN DIEGO, California – Feeling the social responsibility of fighting Islamophobia and bullying, San Diego Unified School District administrators and teachers have approved a plan to confront hate against Muslim students, setting a role model on integration and understanding.
“It’s more of a comprehensive program, not just a curriculum,” Stan Anjan, executive director of Family and Community Engagement at the district, told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Wednesday, April 5.
“We’re looking at it from a very integrated and holistic approach.”
The plan was approved unanimously by trustees on Tuesday, with board member Michael McQuary absent.
It will include modifying calendars to show Islamic holidays, students will learn more about the religion in social studies classes and safe places will be created on campuses for Muslim students.
The first step will be to distribute letters to staff members and parents addressing Islamophobia and identifying resources to learn about the religion and fight discrimination.
District calendars will be reviewed to ensure Islam holidays are recognized, which Anjan said is important so schools will schedule campus events that also can be attended by Muslim families.
Schools also will review and vet materials related to Muslim culture and history in media centers and provide resources and material for teachers.
Anjan said social studies lessons may include more information on prominent Muslims and their impact on history and other steps to promote a more positive image of Islam.
“Sometimes curriculum has had a much more Eurocentric approach,” he said. “We’re now thinking of how to diversify social studies curriculum.”
The plan was first suggested in November 2015 after the Council for American-Islamic Relations, the largest American Muslim civil rights advocacy group in the country, released a report on school bullying of Muslim students.
The report found 55 percent of American Muslim students surveyed in California said they were bullied because on their religion, which was twice as high as the national statistic of students reporting being bullied at school.
The plan comes shortly after President Donald Trump’s hateful presidential campaign and executive orders banning Muslim immigrants.
“There’s a sense of urgency around this work, especially post-election,” Anjan said.
Counselors and teachers in schools and colleges throughout the county have said Muslim students are feeling anxious these days, but Anjan said he’s also seen more students wanting to work to create more peaceful campuses.
“We’ve had students say they want to be leaders around equality issues,” he said.
The plan was supported by trustees, who were eager to move on.
“When we create a climate where it’s OK to celebrate diversity and difference, then it makes all of our children safer,” said Trustee Kevin Beiser.
“Not just the children who happen to be Muslim.”
Trustee John Lee Evans said the issue of Islamophobia and bullying against Muslim is greater today than when the board first called for a plan to address the issue.
“Now we have on a national stage where people openly discuss hatred and discrimination against various groups,” he said. We really need to redouble our efforts at a time like this.”
The meeting was attended by about 150 members of San Diego’s Muslim community, including Hanif Mohebia, executive director of the San Diego office of CAIR.
“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,” he said.
“I’m really happy we’re going toward the right direction. I am excited, but also careful and cautious because the work ahead is something we will all be responsible for.”