San Diego Unified School District trustees will discuss clarifications and new developments to its anti-bullying policy aimed at protecting Muslim students during a meeting with a packed agenda Tuesday night.
Also on the agenda will be a presentation on a sex education curriculum that has drawn protests from parents and a proposal to lower the threshold for taking action if lead is found in drinking water on campuses.
In April, the district approved a plan to address the bullying of Muslim students in response to a study by the Council on Americani-Islamic Relations that found students of that faith were bullied at a disproportionately higher rate in California.
A backlash that drew national attention soon followed, and six parents filed a lawsuit in May claiming the policy was unconstitutional and favored students of one religion over another.
On Tuesday, the board will hear a report that addresses some specific concerns people had with the policy and will clarify the district's association with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
District public information officer Andrew Sharp said the San Diego Unified never had a formal contract with the organization, and the report states that staff is being redirected from forming a formal partnership with CAIR and instead will form an intercultural committee that will include representatives of all faiths and cultures to provide the district input on cultural sensitivities and needs within the various groups.
Attorney Charles LiMandri, president and chief council for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, is representing the parents in the lawsuit against the district. He has said the association with CAIR was concerning because officials in the the organization have been linked to terrorism and its mission is "to change American society and advance radical Islam."
CAIR has responded on its official website to similar charges by saying the group is being found guilty by association and it has a track record of opposing extremism.
Hearing of the district's latest statement about CAIR, attorney Daniel Piedra of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund issued a statement.
"Even though the Board had the opportunity to remedy the anti-Islamophobia initiative prior to this legal action, we are pleased that they have recognized the importance of both protecting the religious equality of all students and minimizing the influence of divisive outside forces," he wrote.
"Nevertheless, as we try to work toward a reasonable resolution that avoids further litigation, we will continue — for our schoolchildren's sake — to hold the Board to a standard in accordance with the U.S. Constitution and California state law," he concluded.
In another action that expands on a change mentioned in April, calendars used by teachers will include major holidays for all faiths, not just Islam.
When the policy was first presented in April, district Family and Community Engagement Director Stan Anjan said putting Islam holidays on school calendars would help teachers with Muslim students plan their schedules.
Anjan explained that by alerting teachers of the holidays, they could avoid scheduling things like after-school meetings with parents on days that Muslim families may not attend.
Sharp said the district's calendar lists no religious holidays, and the plan was never to name only Muslim ones. A page of frequently asked questions on the district website has stated for weeks that the plan is to "add major holidays for all faiths to help principals and individual school communities plan events at times that are least disruptive to the populations they serve...."
Sharp said the board also will hear a report on expanding the Anti-Defamation League's No Place for Hate campaign to all schools in the fall. The campaign provides tools for combating bias, bullying and hatred while empowering students, faculty and family members.
Sharp said the program is an example of how the district is trying to protect all students. He also said much of the concern about the district favoring Muslim students was a misunderstanding that came in the spring with discussions about how the district should respond to bullying against that specific faith.
Trustee Kevin Beiser has pushed for the No Place for Hate campaign to expand.
"We're going to continue to protect all students, including those who are Muslim, and do it in a way that's inclusive and establishes an expectation that all students are protected and safe," he said.
Also on Tuesday, the district will hear of a plan to lower the threshold of when it should take action if lead is found in water at schools.
The state sets the acceptable level of lead with a formula based on micrograms per liter, which translates to a maximum of 15 parts per billion. A plan before the board would lower the level to 5 parts per billion.
Tests conducted by the city of San Diego this year found elevated levels of lead in water at Co-Operative Charter School 2 and Emerson-Bandini School , which share the same campus, and at Birney Elementary School.
Also on Tuesday, the board will hear a report on the sex education curriculum in grades 6, 8 and in high school. More than 1,000 people have signed a petition that said the lessons are age-inappropriate.
Of 27,000 students who received the curriculum in their biology classes, 0.73 percent, or 196 students, opted out, according to the district.