As’Salaamu Alaikum Community Members,
This February, as national Black History Month rolled into our calendars, we at CAIR-SFBA’s legal team paused to recognize the unmistakably unique contributions of Black Americans, Muslim and otherwise, to the advancement and protection of civil rights in the United States including the passage of the Civil Rights of 1964 and the numerous protests, marches, sit-ins and organizing campaigns that created the conditions for the act to come into existence. It is on the shoulders of this legacy that all Americans can clamor and agitate for civil rights, economic justice and equality that we assume to have always been constitutionally guaranteed without struggle.
CAIR-SFBA attorneys usually step in promptly to ensure that when we receive reports from concerned parents and educators about incidents of Islamophobia and bullying on school premises, we can provide legal counsel and representation to prevent furtherance of hostile learning environments. In one such case this past month, CAIR-SFBA attorneys were contacted by the mother of a 14-year old Muslim high school student who had been called names and threatened physically and verbally by a group of his peers and classmates. In one instance, the student was called “Bin Laden” and pointedly asked if he “would show up to school to blow it up!”, on social media, by one student finding humor in using these stereotypes as insults. This was followed by threats to hurt the Muslim student and his family by the same student. Furthering the student’s harassment, he was challenged to fight the student alleged to be committing the bullying by several of his peers on school premises who had heard of this disturbing exchange. After the student’s mother complained to the school about the occurrence of these events, the school administration initially attempted to deflect responsibility by blaming the student’s responding to the bullying and harassment as proof of complicity.
At this point, CAIR-SFBA attorneys stepped in to counsel the student and the parent by representing them in discussions with the school administration to ensure they understood the gravity of the allegations and that they were responsible for taking immediate ameliorative action to prevent any further harassment or bullying. CAIR-SFBA attorneys wrote a complaint letter to the school detailing the school’s obligations under California’s Safe Place to Learn Act (AB 2845), passed by CAIR-California along with its allies, which provides school staff with school-site and community resources as well as require the superintendent of public instruction to publish anti-bullying resources related to religious and perceived religious affiliation on its website. Furthermore, the act requires school districts to publicize anti-discrimination, anti-intimidation, and anti-bullying policies, including information about how to file complaints. As a response, the school administration moved to take immediate steps outlined in the complaint letter including an urgent investigation into the allegations, appropriate but not punitive disciplining of students involved and an anti-bullying workshop that was conducted by CAIR-SFBA.
In the interest of working alongside parents and educators in ensuring that students receive appropriate consideration and accommodation to allow them to continue learning in an educational environment that is supportive and fosters their academic growth without sacrificing their identity or religious beliefs. Additionally, if you or your community would like to learn about how to respond to harassment and bullying in school as a target or witness, holding schools districts responsible for lack of action and possible remedies, request our Students’ Rights and School Bullying Know Your Rights workshops by filling out this workshop request form and reporting all incidents through our intake form.
Ammad Rafiqi, Esq.
Civil Rights & Legal Services Coordinator