In the heat of the 2016 campaign season, San Diego Unified board members voted to put together a plan to stop Islamophobia in schools. Part of that plan was in action Thursday — a week after President Donald Trump signed orders to temporarily ban travel from Muslim-majority countries and crack down on immigration.
Hanif Mohebi of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said he's been called to more than a dozen schools since the election in November to teach students and teachers how to handle bullying of Muslims. Thursday, his audience was a little different: Latino students at Logan Elementary School.
"Where you're sitting, I used to sit there," Mohebi said to the seventh- and eighth-graders. "And without my beard, I used to look exactly like you, and people used to think I'm Mexican. So I've heard all the negative stuff that they will say. And it hurts."
The presentation wasn't altered for the new audience. Pamphlets on how to deal with being bullied said, "Know your rights as a Muslim youth in school." And tips for teachers — like understanding that minimizing eye contact is a sign of respect, not disrespect, among Muslims — were still laid out in bullet points. Mohebi and the school's principal, José Villar, urged the students to learn about Muslims and apply anti-bullying tips to their own lives.
Mohebi taught students various ways to deescalate and report bullying situations, and urged them to step in if they see it happening to someone else.
Eighth-grader Alfonso Ruiz, 14, took the message to heart.
Mohebi's presentation is a pilot born out of the board's vote on addressing Islamophobia. The school board will consider a broader implementation later this year.
In addition to heated campaign rhetoric, school officials were responding to a CAIR study that showed 55 percent of Muslim students in California — double the national average — had experienced bullying.