June 24, 2024

The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today welcomed the launch of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) into the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD).

The investigation follows a federal civil rights complaint submitted by CAIR-SFBA and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) on May 8, 2024, that alleges widespread anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and Islamophobic discrimination within the district. 

SEE: Berkeley Unified School District – OCR Case Number 09-24-1543 

OCR’s investigation will examine whether BUSD: 

  • Responded appropriately to allegations of harassment and unfair treatment. 
  • Provided equitable access to mental health services and essential information for Arabic-speaking students and parents. 
  • Adhered to Title VI requirements in addressing these complaints. 

The 11-page complaint, filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlined numerous reported incidents of harassment and discrimination against students who are or perceived to be Palestinian, Arab or Muslim.

These incidents, reported to BUSD leaders, highlighted a troubling pattern of exclusion, marginalization and failure by the district to protect affected students and staff. Specific forms of harassment included slurs (such as terrorist and references to 9-11), physical assaults and nonconsensual filming of students participating in pro-Palestine activities. The complaint also described unequal opportunities for Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students to express themselves and learn about their heritage compared to their peers, as well as inadequate support services for Arabic-speaking students and parents. 

In a statement, CAIR-SFBA Executive Director Zahra Billoo said: 

“We commend the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for taking this critical step toward addressing the reported systemic discrimination faced by Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students in Berkeley schools. The opening of this investigation is a necessary step to ensure that BUSD meets its legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is crucial that all students, regardless of their background, feel safe and supported in their educational environment.” 

BUSD parent Molly Sampson added: 

“As a parent within the Berkeley Unified School District, I am relieved that the U.S. Department of Education is stepping in to investigate these serious allegations. Our children deserve to learn in an environment free from hate and discrimination. It’s disheartening to see students facing such adversity, and I hope this investigation brings about the necessary changes to ensure all students are treated with fairness and respect.” 

CAIR-SFBA remains steadfast in its mission to combat discrimination and promote justice. We encourage anyone experiencing acts of aggression, racism, or Islamophobia to contact our Civil Rights Department at 408.986.9874 or visit bit.ly/cairsfbareport