US: San Diego schools sued over anti-Islamophobia campaign
The San Diego Unified School District said Thursday that it does not comment on pending litigation but district officials have vigorously defended the plan in recent weeks, saying bullying of Muslim students was pervasive and vastly underreported.world Updated: May 26, 2017 20:51 IST
Six parents have sued the San Diego school district, alleging that its anti-Islamophobia campaign favors Islam over other religions and grants special protections to Muslim students.
Charles LiMandri, an attorney for the parents, called the campaign a “politically correct solution to a problem that does not exist.”
The plan drew little attention when the board approved it 4-0 on April 4, with one member absent. Public comments from staff and community members were uniformly positive. Pushback gradually spread in conservative media and on social media, with many critics calling it an unwanted intrusion of Muslim beliefs and culture.
The San Diego Unified School District said Thursday that it does not comment on pending litigation but district officials have vigorously defended the plan in recent weeks, saying bullying of Muslim students was pervasive and vastly underreported. As criticism mounted, the district posted extensive explanations on its website, saying it wasn’t endorsing Islam and that its initiative responded to community concerns expressed last summer about the safety of Muslim students.
The multi-year plan includes ensuring staff calendars include Muslim holidays, reviewing library materials on Muslim culture, providing resources to teachers and engaging in partnerships with the Council on American Islamic Relations.
The district also plans to consider high school clubs that promote American Muslim culture, create “safe spaces” for students and train staff about Muslim culture. The district is reviewing internal staff calendars to make sure Muslim holidays are recognized.
A letter outlining the plans was expected to be sent to staff and parents of the district’s 132,000 students before the school year ends.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, says the policy violates the U.S. Constitution by endorsing a religion. It asks a judge to immediately halt the policy while the merits of the claim are considered.
LiMandri said he was open to settlement talks and that an attorney for the school district appeared open to revisiting its partnership with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“No one is saying we have to have expensive, protracted litigation,” LiMandri said at a news conference Thursday. “There can be a more commonsense approach to this where all students can be protected and no students are being favored to the disadvantage of anyone else.”
Hanif Mohebi, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations’ San Diego chapter, said the lawsuit “seems to be an attempt to have the courts enforce growing Islamophobia in our state and nation, and to strip away much-needed protection for Muslim students who face increasing bullying.”
Last fall, Kansas City Public Schools and California’s Oakland Unified School District passed resolutions expressing solidarity with Muslim students.