After hearing emotional stories from Muslim San Diego students who say they’re bullied because of their religion, board leaders voted unanimously to come up with a plan to address Islamophobia in schools.
One by one, young victims of bullying shared their stories in front of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Board Tuesday evening, asking leaders for resolution to battle the growing problem of bullying of Muslim students at local schools.
As the students spoke, hundreds of members of the Muslim community sat in on the meeting, parents holding up bright signs that read, “Protect Our Kids.”
A 6th grade girl shared her story of how she was bullied and called names by a group of three boys. When she told her teacher, the girl said nothing was done about her concerns.
“I didn’t feel safe. I told my teacher I didn’t feel safe. I told her I want to be safe, but she didn’t react to that,” the girl explained.
Eventually, the bullying turned physical. The girl told the school board the boys began hitting, punching and kicking her. One day, they pushed her, causing her to bleed after suffering an injury to her teeth.
The girl said she and one other student felt they were being targeted and bullied because of their religion.
“We were the only two Muslims and we were the only two to get bullied,” she said. “Several times I felt depressed and thought of leaving everything behind – to a place where no one is there.”
A 5th grade Muslim student told the board about how a classmate would often stare at her and her mother in a “nasty way” and ask her why her mother wore a head scarf.
After months of these types of questions, the girl said her classmate purposely stepped on her hand one day, sending her to the emergency room.
“On my way to the hospital, I was thinking, ‘Why would that happen just because my mom looks different than my classmate’s mom?’ the student told the SDUSD board.
“Please help us stop this kind of bullying so that no one gets hurt," she pleaded to the board.
A 4th grade boy also took the podium.
The boy said that one day in class, he and fellow students were talking about different cultures. He shared that he was Muslim.
“A kid in my class told me that, ‘[Donald] Trump was going to beat Muslims up – including you.’” He also said that Muslims were the worst people,” the boy recalled.
“After hearing his words, I was scared and started crying. I started crying because Muslims are my family and I don’t anyone to hurt my family,” he added.
The boy also said he told his teacher about the bullying, but nothing was done by the teacher.
A 16-year-old senior with many leadership roles at his high school also talked about how his religion has played a role in the way fellow students and teachers look at him.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve felt inferior because I look foreign. [How many times] I’ve had people exclude me, spread rumors about me because of my faith or had my ideas trampled upon,” he said.
The high school student said bullying of Muslim students distracts them from learning and hinders their progress.
“These setbacks limit and oppress Muslim students,” he added.
The meeting was part of a plan spearheaded by the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in San Diego. CAIR executive director Hanif Mohebi said the organization has been working with the school district for the past five years to address the safety concerns of Muslim students.
Mohebi said CAIR wants to work with the school district to provide resources that will help teachers and administrators properly deal with the bullying of Muslim students.
“We need to provide information, development in order to make sure that our teachers and administrations are empowered to take care of this in the right way,” Mohebi told NBC 7.
Mohebi said 55 percent of Muslim students who attend public school face bullying. One in five students who wear head scarves said some of that discrimination comes from teachers and administrators.
Mohebi said he was moved to tears listening to the stories of young Muslim students who feel helpless because they’re being bullied due to their faith.
“I was in tears in the back. When you have students in 4th and 5th grade and they have been called names that I cannot even say – it’s just emotional,” he explained.
“I was moved [by these kids’ stories], in their own words. They’re saying, ‘Well, I’m studying and someone is kicking me from the back. And I asked my teacher, can I change my seat?’ And the teacher says no, consistently,” he added.
Mohebi said that when he was in grade school, he could go to his teachers for help. Now, that’s not always the case for some of these Muslim students.
He said CAIR’s plan is to help those teachers help students.
After the board’s vote, the SDUSD superintendent now plans to partner with the Muslim community and visit with parents and students to help develop a comprehensive strategy to battle bullying. This includes providing data on Muslim student reports of bullying on a monthly basis. Those monthly reports will be posted online.
Much of the bullying, according to the San Diego Muslim community, has increased with recent terror attacks around the world.
Members of the school board said the students who shared their difficult stories Tuesday evening were very brave to speak up.
“Our future generations – our future leaders – are in our classrooms today. If we don’t take care of them, there will not be a better a tomorrow for you and I,” Mohebi told NBC 7.