District tries to end bullying of Muslim students. Gets sued for it.

In the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign, the school board in San Diego, California directed the superintendent to “bring back to the board a plan to address Islamophobia and the reports of bullying of Muslim students....at a future date.”

Boom. Lawsuit.

You might think that any proactive effort by a school board to address the bullying of students would be greeted favorably.  But a couple of groups in San Diego saw a dark motive behind the board’s action.  The suit was filed by Citizens for Quality Education San Diego, the San Diego Asian Americans for Equality Foundation and six parents.

The plaintiffs alleged that the board was engaged in a “subtle discriminatory scheme” to promote Islam at the expense of other religions.  Much of the focus of the suit was on the district’s relationship with CAIR—the Council on American-Islamic Relations.  A federal judge in California recently issued a 54-page decision, denying the request of the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction.  The organizations lacked “standing” to pursue the matter, as did most of the individual plaintiffs. The court did allow one plaintiff to proceed with the case based on allegations that a parent and child were:

‘spiritually affronted’ by [the school’s] conduct, which has chilled their participation in District activities; additionally, one Plaintiff alleges that [the school’s] conduct will cause the Plaintiff to remove the Plaintiff’s child from the District.

The district tried to avoid a lawsuit.  When the plaintiffs threatened legal action over the board’s original directive to the superintendent the district took corrective action.  It revised its policy to remove references to any specific religious group and, instead, more generally prohibited bullying of any student on religious grounds.  But the district still collaborated with CAIR and purchased materials recommended by CAIR. So the plaintiffs still thought the district was improperly singling out Muslims for special treatment. The suit was filed.

This entire episode would provide an excellent case study of how the culture wars come into play in the public schools.  In the era of “identity politics” those who govern are confronted with accusations of favoring one group at the expense of others.  In this case, the plaintiffs alleged that the district “‘lavishes’ Muslim students with ‘benefits’ not received by students of other religions.”  The judge rejected this “zero-sum view of who ‘benefits’ from the District’s efforts to address Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bullying.”  As the court noted, the effort to address the bullying of this particular group of students “accrues to all of the students at the School District by learning about the world.”

We all want the public schools to reflect our values.  As soon as we all agree on those values, things will be a lot easier. As Citizens for Quality Education San Diego v. Barrera demonstrates, that day of agreement is a long way off.  The case was decided on September 25, 2018 by the federal court for the Southern District of California. We found it at 2018 WL 4599700.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday and the “shoulda known kids.”