Continuing to Improve the Muslim Student Environment

Based on our years of experience addressing these issues, CAIR-CA recently established a state-wide Center for the Prevention of Hate and Bullying that will bring together resources across the state to address the long history of, and the recent rise in, bullying of marginalized students. Part of the Center’s goals is to increase direct engagement with educators and to provide training and resources to school districts across California.  

CAIR-CA is sending this letter to educators and administrators across California to encourage them to meet and partner with CAIR-CA in a collaborative effort to safeguard the learning environment of Muslim students and eradicate all forms of bullying and harassment.  

As you know, all California students have the right to learn in an environment free of bullying, discrimination, and harassment on the basis of protected categories such as religion, race, ethnicity, or national origin. California’s public schools have an affirmative obligation to combat these forms of bias, and a responsibility to provide an equal educational opportunity to all students.  

Effect of Biases on Students

Unfortunately, bullying and discrimination remain a common, and increasing, occurrence that has disproportionately impacted Muslim students.  It is incumbent upon schools and school districts to take proactive steps to ameliorate the effects of bullying and harassment that occur based on these actual or perceived characteristics. In 2021, Muslim students across the state reported to CAIR-CA that 47% of them were bullied at school for identifying or being perceived as Muslim in the year-and-half period prior to the pandemic. This was an increase from the 40% who reported being bullied in 2019.  This finding was part of CAIR-CA’s fifth biennial anti-bullying report entitled “Examining Islamophobia in California Schools: 2021 Bullying Report.” 

Muslim students also reported high levels of Islamophobic harassment and comments from teachers and other school personnel who are responsible for their well-being. Nearly one in four respondents (23.50%) reported that a teacher, administrator, or other adult at their school made offensive comments about Islam or Muslims. Whether an educator is aware or unaware of their biases, when an educator discusses Islam or Muslims in a negative or Islamophobic matter, the usual results for students of BAMEMSA communities are withdrawal from class participation, ostracization/increased bullying, and psychosomatic issues. Furthermore, in light of the upcoming commemoration of the tragic events of 9/11, it is imperative that educators address the issues outlined above. It is no secret that Muslim students of all ages have been ostracized and mistreated in the past because of their faith and perceived, yet clearly false, association with 9/11.  

To accomplish the goal of ensuring Muslim students feel welcome, valued, and not singled out or subjected to Islamophobic bullying, we recommend that your district commits to partner with civil rights advocacy groups and experts who work with affected BAMEMSA students.  At CAIR, we stand ready to provide the training solutions and curricula suggestions that schools in your district will undoubtedly need to navigate the new challenges that are sure to arise during the 2022-2023 school year.  

Our collaborative programs are aimed at helping educators become aware of their biases and root out the misconceptions that they may be unknowingly promoting to their students. Absent proper training, occurrences of such situations may constitute wrongful conduct under the law and result in violations of students’ rights to a safe and non-discriminatory learning environment. As an organization with many years of experience uprooting racial and religious biases, this is our area of expertise. We can help districts eradicate Islamophobia in their schools and ensure that Muslim youth across the state feel safe and valued in their learning environment. To that end, CAIR-CA has also prepared an Educator’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices as a resource.  

If you have any questions, you may contact Amr Shabaik, Esq., CAIR-LA Civil Rights Managing Attorney, at (714) 776-1177 or ashabaik@cair.com.