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San Diego Unified School Board Approves Creation Of Anti-Islamophobia Plan

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San Diego Unified School Board Approves Creation Of Anti-Islamophobia Plan
San Diego Unified School Board Approves Creation Of Anti-Islamophobia Plan GUEST: Hanif Mohebi, executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations San Diego chapter

NEGATIVE STEREOTYPES OF MUSLIMS HAVE UNFORTUNATELY BECOME PART OF OUR LIVES. MOST ADULTS KNOW ENOUGH TO SPOT BIGOTRY WHEN THEY SEE IT. WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN? THE SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT HAS DECIDED TO FIND A WAY TO COUNTER THOSE MESSAGES AND STOP ISLAMIC PHOBIA AND BULLYING OF MUSLIM STUDENTS. IT'S A PROBLEM THAT'S AFFECTING STUDENTS, SOME OF WHOM SPOKE DURING THE SCHOOL BOARD MEETING THIS WEEK. CUSTOMER TALKING ABOUT DIFFERENT CULTURES, I SHOW THAT I AM A MUSLIM A KID IN MY CLASS TOLD ME A CHILD IS GOING TO BEAT MUSLIMS OF INCLUDING YOU. HE ALSO SAID MUSLIMS ARE THE WORST PEOPLE. I FELT LIKE ME AND THE OTHER STUDENTS ARE GETTING BULLIED BECAUSE OF OUR RELIGION TO GO WITH THE ONLY TWO MUSLIMS AND WE'RE THE ONLY TWO TO GET BULLIED. SEVERAL TIMES I FELT DEPRESSED ABOUT HER LEAVING EVERYTHING BEHIND. I CAN BEGIN TO TELL YOU HOW AT TIMES I FELT INFERIOR BECAUSE I LOOK FOR IN. HAVE PEOPLE EXCLUDE ME, SPREADER RUMORS BECAUSE OF MY FAITH OR HAD MY IDEAS TRAMPLED BECAUSE OF CLINICAL EFFECTIVENESS. THOSE VOICES WERE FROM FOURTH-GRADERS AND SIX GRADERS AND A HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR. JOINING ME NOW IS DIRECTOR OF ISLAMIC RELATIONS AND CARE. THANK YOU FOR COMING IN. YOU AT THE SCHOOL BOARD MEETING. WHAT DID YOU WANT THE BOARD MEMBERS TO KNOW ABOUT WHAT'S SOME KIDS FACE IN SCHOOL? I WANT THE BOARD MEMBERS TO FEEL THE SIGNIFICANCE AND INTENSITY OF WHAT'S GOING ON, SPECIFICALLY WE HAVE ONE OF MY STUDENTS WE SURVEYED THAT SAID DISCRIMINATION ANTI-MUSLIM HATE WAS COMING FROM STAFF MEMBERS AND TEACHERS. WHEN YOU HAVE 27% OF OUR YOUNG STUDENTS WHO WEAR HEADSCARVES THAT THINK THE TEACHERS ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM, WHETHER THAT'S TRUE OR NOT, THAT'S HOW THEY FEEL. HOW CAN WE STOP THAT? HOW CAN WE BRING A REMEDY THAT CAN HELP THEM? SCHOOL DISTRICTS LIKE SAN DIEGO UNIFIED ALREADY HAVE ANTI-BULLYING POLICIES AND ANTI-DISSEMINATION POLICIES. WHY DO FEEL THERE NEEDS TO BE A POLICY SPECIFICALLY GEARED TOWARDS MUSLIM STUDENTS? FIRST AND FOREMOST, THE MUSLIM STUDENTS ARE TARGETED. AT A RATE MUCH HIGHER THAN, TWICE THE AVERAGE NATIONAL STATISTICS, 55% OF THE STUDENTS WE SURVEYED WERE BULLIED IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. THAT'S ONE REASON. ANOTHER REASON, GIVEN THE POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE WE LIVE IN ITS VERY IMPORTANT FOR US TO MAKE SURE THE STUDENTS THAT ARE IN OUR CLASSROOMS FEEL THEY ARE PART OF THE DISCUSSION NOT TARGETED BY THE DISCUSSION. THIS HAS BEEN A PROBLEM INCREASED IN RECENT YEARS BUT A RATHER LONG-STANDING IN OUR PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEMS. YOU GREW UP IN CALIFORNIA. DID YOU EVER EXPERIENCED ANY SORT OF HARASSMENT IN SCHOOL BECAUSE OF YOUR RELIGION OR HERITAGE? I GREW UP IN SAN JOSE CALIFORNIA. YES, I DID. I WAS BULLIED. THE BEAUTIFUL THING ABOUT THAT WAS I LOVED MY TEACHERS AND I KNEW THEY WOULD PROTECT ME. I COULD TURN BACK TO MY TEACHERS, MY ADMINISTRATION, UNTIL TODAY, I AM IN CONTACT WITH MY FOURTH AND FIFTH GRADE TEACHERS. I COULD TURN BACK TO THEM AND THEY WOULD PROTECT ME. WHAT ABOUT WHAT REALLY HURTS ME IS WHAT ABOUT TODAY IF YOUR STUDENTS AND PEOPLE ARE BULLYING YOU AND YOU CANNOT GO TO YOUR TEACHER BECAUSE YOU THINK THE TEACHER IS THE PROBLEM? YOU CONGRATULATED A SCHOOL BOARD DURING A DISCUSSION AND SAID THEY SHOWED YOU WHY SAN DIEGO HAS ONE OF THE SAFEST SCHOOL DISTRICTS FOR MUSLIM STUDENTS. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT? I SAID THEY WERE TAKING THE LEAD IN CALIFORNIA, PERHAPS THE NATION AND MANY FRIENDS AND SPECIFICALLY WORKING WITH SPECIFIC COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS. I NEVER SAID THEY WERE THE SAFEST. HOWEVER, THEY CAN BE THE SAFEST IF WE WORK TOGETHER. IS THERE A FEELING AMONG SOME MUSLIM STUDENTS THAT THEY SHOULD HIDE THEIR RELIGION OR THEIR CULTURE? IN SOME CASES, THEY ARE FORCED TO. SOME STUDENTS HAVE SAID I AM JUST BECAUSE I AM MUSLIM. THEY WOULD SAY I AM A TERRORIST AND ALWAYS ASK ME HOW IS THE BOMB YOU'RE WORKING ON? SOMEONE THREATENED TO KILL ME IF I SHOWED UP ON MY LOVE AND -- 9/11. WE'RE SUCH SEVERE HATE IS NOT FOR THAT STUDENTS MAY FEEL MAYBE THEY SHOULD. I HONOR THOSE STUDENTS, LIKE ONE OF THE YOUNG FIFTH-GRADERS SPOKE UP, AM PROUD OF MY RELIGION AND I'M WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW THAT I DON'T CARE WHAT THEY THINK. WE NEED TO HAVE -- WAS BEAUTIFUL THAT AMERICA IS WE CAN ALL LIVE TOGETHER, SHINE THE WAY WE ARE BUT WORK TOGETHER TOWARDS A COMMON GOAL AND VALUE. I THINK THAT'S WHAT WE NEED TO INSTILL IN OUR KIDS. THE SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT IS TO PRODUCE A PLAN TO ADDRESS ANTI-MUSLIM PLAYING. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INCLUDED IN THE PLAN? THIS IS THE FIRST STEP. THE PLAN HAS TO INCLUDE NUMBER ONE, PROVIDING RESOURCES, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. I DO THESE TRAININGS AND OTHER SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND ONE OF THE TOP QUESTIONS TEACHERS ASK, I WISH I HAD THESE THIS INFORMATION BEFORE. WE NEED TO PROVIDE THEM RESOURCES, DEVELOPMENTS, WE NEED TO WORK ON CURRICULUM AND MAKE SURE THE CURRICULUM IS MORE INCLUSIVE AND FORTH, WHEN WE TALK ABOUT BULLYING WE HAVE TO MAKE SURE THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY IS INVOLVED IN THE DISCUSSION. HOW CAN THE REST OF SAN DIEGO HELP IN THIS EFFORT? ALL OF US NEED TO LEARN ABOUT EACH OTHER. IF YOU HAVE A MUSLIM NEIGHBOR, REACH OUT TO THEM, HAVE A COFFEE HAVE LUNCH. DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK HARD QUESTIONS. BREAK SOME BREAD WITH THEM. THAT'S AT THE FAMILY LEVEL. AT THE SCHOOL DISTRICT, AND INVITE ALL THE SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO CONTACT LOCAL COMMUNITIES, ORGANIZATIONS AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS TO SEE HOW TOGETHER WE CAN WORK AND BRING ABOUT A POSITIVE CHANGE TO OUR SOCIETY. I DID SPEAK WITH EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE SAN DIEGO CHAPTER OF CARE.

San Diego Unified School District board members voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of creating a plan to address Islamophobia and bullying of Muslim students.

More than 200 members and supporters of the city's Muslim community erupted into applause after the vote.

Earlier in the meeting, a Muslim leader urged the district to produce a plan.

"You guys are essentially the reason why this district is one of the safest in the nation," said Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Mohebi also told the board that according a CAIR survey, some 55 percent of students asked said they had been bullied, while one out of five said school staff were not supportive.

"We must provide the right resources to (educators)" to lessen bullying incidents, by suggesting professional development and the proper curriculum, Mohebi said.

Mohebi said when he was harassed when he was in school, but remembered teachers who protected him.

Several students — some of whom said they were physically attacked because of their religion — also urged the district to come up a plan.

Ten-year-old Tasmeya Hammad said another girl became hostile and violent after she asked Tasmeya why her mother wore a head scarf.

"Please help us stop this kind of blame so no one else gets hurt," she added.

Superintendent Cindy Marten has been directed to produce a report this fall offering solutions on how to reduce bullying of Muslim students.

Luqmaan Bokhary, a high school student, said many Muslim students go to school in fear, which also affects their academic performance. He added that his mother, a San Diego Unified student in the 1980s, also was harassed.

During the meeting, numerous Muslim members of the audience held lime-green signs that read, "Protect our kids."

Board members Sharon Whitehurst-Payne and Kevin Beiser originally proposed the district come up with a plan.

Whitehurst-Payne said she was appalled by how some Muslim students are treated, and the district "has to get a handle on it."

Their colleague, Richard Barrera, said such harassment is not new: During the 1979-81 Iranian hostage crisis, Muslim students were bullied. He praised the young Muslim students who spoke Tuesday for "making society and our school system better."

Board member John Lee Evans commended the children for speaking out at a time when the nation's political discourse has taken a negative turn.

In praise of the speakers, Evans added that while he doesn't like to generalize, he doesn't remember hearing a "more respectful and articulate group talking about this issue."

In other matters, the board voted unanimously for a resolution calling on the California Public Employees' Retirement System and California State Teachers' Retirement System to divest their investment portfolios in fossil fuels companies, a move that some in the gallery applauded.

Senate Bill 185 requires that the district release quarterly updates on divestiture to the public.

Beiser said the district is a leader in sustainability, adding the divestment campaign is to help people realize that carbon being left in the ground is better for both the environment and economy.