MPAC News bulletin - May 5, 2005
DOJ civil rights division settles
Muslim student harassment case
MPAC expresses appreciation to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division for settling a harassment case involving a Muslim student in Delaware. The Civil Rights Division’s investigation revealed that the harassment of a fourth-grade Muslim girl in the Cape Henlopen School District, reported in May 2004, did not receive adequate response from the district.
The case involved complaints made by a fourth-grade Muslim girl in the Cape Henlopen School District in May 2004 that her teacher ridiculed her headscarf and made comments to the class such as the "Koran teaches war and hatred." As a result, other students also harassed the girl. The girl also reported that the teacher proselytized other students. Upon receiving these complaints from the girl and her parents, the school moved her to a new class but made no other effort to rectify the problem. After an investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, a settlement was reached in which the school agreed to provide teacher training on diversity and the school's policies regarding religious _expression, to provide a tolerance education program for all K-5 students, and to create specific performance expectations for the teacher and ensure that she achieves them.
In a statement about the case, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Alex Acosta said, "We are pleased that this case has been resolved without recourse to a lawsuit. No student's faith should be attacked by school employees, whose job it is to teach all children. Our country has long had a rich diversity of faith traditions, and the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that people of all faiths are welcomed in our public institutions."
Interagency meetings with MPAC and the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights have proven very productive in highlighting awareness and generating action on the part of the government. On August 20, 200, Alex Acosta wrote a letter to all 50 superintendents asking for greater awareness about the treatment of Muslims in schools based on meetings with MPAC. However, this and other cases reported to MPAC's Hate Crimes Prevention Department underscore the need for even greater awareness of the treatment of Muslim students in high school and college. Two recent cases involve a 6-year old in Dayton and an 11-year old in Phoenix who were harassed and insulted by classmates without significant action taken by the districts.
Such treatment isolates young Muslims from their peers can hinder their full integration into American society. They also show how such speech from teachers and other adults in authoritative positions remains a primary and particularly powerful transmitter of hate to children and young adults. Cultural sensitivity in the classroom must therefore be a high priority for local Human Relations Commissions and schools. MPAC calls on these institutions to redouble their efforts to educate and discourage hate speech.
MPAC's Hate Crimes Prevention Department can offer recommendations and resources for conducting these sensitivity trainings. For more information, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (213) 383-3443.