Call it the "Trump effect" but schools around the country have reported a surge in bullying since the 2016 presidential election and San Diego's school district is taking action.
The San Diego Unified School District announced a new anti-Muslim bullying program last week that spurred heated debate from its opponents and supporters.
The program was spearheaded based on findings that Muslim students are bullied at a higher rate than students of other faiths. According to CAIR, (Council of American-Islamic Relations) 55 percent of California Muslim students between the ages of 11 and 18 reported being bullied based on their faith. A national survey conducted by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, shows similar statistics with 42 percent of Muslim parents reporting bullying of their children, compared with 23 percent of Jewish and 20 percent of Protestant parents, according to NPR.
"I am shocked, ashamed, of the level of hate, the level of bigotry that's out there in the community," Hanif Mohebi, executive director of CAIR's San Diego office told The San Diego Tribune. "But it exemplifies what we've been saying for so many years. We need to thank and honor the school district for trying to create a safe environment, a safe place for all students to learn."
Details of the program haven't yet been revealed, but the policy which was approved back in April, may include adding additional secular lessons on Islam to social studies classes to help better promote understanding is a possibility.
Maureen Costello, director of the Teaching Tolerance program at the Southern Poverty Law Center, estimates that over 70 percent of bullying is based on group differences. She feels tailoring anti-bullying programs to promote more cultural sensitivity would help to reduce the problem. "I'd like to see schools provide teachers with culturally responsive training where educators not only learn about Muslim children and their faith, customs, and traditions, but also about the vast diversity of the public school system," she told NPR.
Despite any sort of presented plan for what the anti-Muslim bullying program in schools might look like, its announcement drew criticism from parents in a number of groups, calling it unfair.
The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit to stop the program on the basis of discrimination against students of other faiths. Daniel Piedra, executive director of the fund, said the 55 percent statistic by CAIR was skewed data. "If you look at the results, only 7 percent said they were bullied often or very often," Piedra said. Thirty percent of students in the survey said they were bullied less than three times a year.
Frank Xu, president of the San Diego Asian Americans for Equality Foundation, voiced the group's criticism of the policy in a news release, calling it "unconstitutional" and accusing the school district of "playing favorites."
"Students of all faiths face daily bullying, but instead of protecting all religious students, the School District has selected Muslim students to receive special protection and resources," read part of the statement.
San Diego Unified school district retired principal, Ernie McCray, voiced his support for the program, saying that it wasn't about special treatment but rather equal treatment and understanding.
"If someone is being bullied and you think that maybe there needs to be an understanding about that group of people, and you as a school district can do something about that, you're not dealing with special treatment," McCray said. "You're dealing with the kind of treatment that all people should be given."