Board of Education’s Replacement Policy Protects All Religious Students & Backs Away from Controversial Islamic Advocacy Group

KEY POINTS:

  • San Diego Unified School District’s Board of Education scrapped an initiative that sought to provide, among other items, special benefits to Muslim students, permit the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to teach students and provide educational materials, and revise curricula to promote a more positive and inclusive portrayal of Islam;
  • Board’s decision is a result of FCDF’s federal lawsuit filed on behalf of five families challenging the constitutionality of SDUSD’s policy favoring Muslim students and its partnership with CAIR;
  • Charles LiMandri, FCDF President & Chief Counsel, commented:

“Last night, the School Board recognized the importance of protecting students of all religious beliefs from bullying as well as keeping our children safe from the influence of divisive outside forces. While we are pleased with the Board’s decision, we remain disappointed that it waited until a federal lawsuit had to be filed to implement a fair and equal anti-bullying policy that protects all students.”

BACKGROUND:

Last night, San Diego Unified School District’s (SDUSD) Board of Education overturned its “anti-Islamophobia” bullying prevention initiative and adopted a new program entitled “No Place for Hate,” which was developed by the Anti-Defamation League and will focus on protecting students of all religious beliefs. In addition, the Board voted to back away from another formal partnership with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The Board’s reversal is a response to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) on behalf of five families and two organization that challenged the initiative’s constitutionality.

On April 5, 2017, the Board approved an Anti-Islamophobia initiative purportedly to combat the bullying of Muslim students. Among other benefits, the initiative instructed teachers and staff to promote Muslim culture, create safe spaces for Muslim students, and vet and revise curricula to ensure a more “positive” and “inclusive” portrayal of Islam. In addition, the initiative sought to formalize SDUSD’s longtime collaboration with CAIR, and it authorized the group to provide training materials, teach students about Islam during class time, and pass out religious materials.

On April 27, Charles LiMandri, FCDF President & Chief Counsel, emailed a detailed, three-page letter to each SDUSD board member and Superintendent Marten, informing them that the initiative, when implemented, would “likely violate the U.S. Constitution, and consequently would invite time-consuming and expensive legal challenges.” LiMandri recommended that the Board rescind the anti-Islamophobia initiative and pursue an anti-bullying measure that protected students of all religions.

SDUSD officials did not respond to the letter, nor did they rescind the policy at either of the two board meetings that were held prior to the filing of the original complaint on May 22, 2017. On June 28, FCDF filed an amended complaint adding additional state law claims, including violations of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and several provisions of the California Education Code.

Limandri commented:

“As part of a quality education, students should learn about all religions. However, allowing an outside Islamic group to dictate how and what students learn about Islam undermines our school children’s right to an objective and unbiased understanding of history and world cultures.

While we hope for a reasonable, final 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.”

STATUS:

FCDF has been communicating with SDUSD’s counsel with the goal of addressing the lawsuit’s allegations without further litigation; however, it is still waiting for SDUSD to respond to FCDF’s California Public Records Act request (submitted nearly three months ago) regarding the initiative and the district’s relationship with CAIR. FCDF expects the next step to occur within 1-2 weeks.

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