U.S. Department of Education officials wrote an open letter Dec. 31, 2015 to the nation’s schools urging them to fight anti-Muslim sentiment.
“[W]e are writing to enlist your help, as educational leaders, to ensure that your schools and institutions of higher education are learning environments in which students are free from discrimination and harassment based on their race, religion, or national origin,” the letter read.
The note, signed by then-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his successor John B. King Jr., especially urges leaders to watch out for specific students more likely to receive discrimination given “recent and ongoing issues.”
“We also urge you to anticipate the potential challenges that may be faced by students who are especially at risk of harassment — including those who are, or are perceived to be, Syrian, Muslim, Middle Eastern, or Arab, as well as those who are Sikh, Jewish, or students of color,” the letter adds.
The letter warns of the effects discrimination can have on schoolchildren.
“If ignored, this kind of conduct can jeopardize students’ ability to learn, undermine their physical and emotional well-being, provoke retaliatory acts, and exacerbate community conflicts,” it notes.
A 2014 Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) report revealed that 55 percent of Muslims ages 11 to 18 in California reported being bullied, The Washington Post notes.
“This is twice as high as the national statistic of students reporting being bullied at school,” CAIR noted, according to The Post. “Many students experienced multiple types of bullying; however, the most common type of bullying American Muslim students faced was verbal at 52%.”
Twenty percent of those students reported that a teacher or staff member discriminated against them.
The U.S. Department of Education's recent letter offers examples to school leaders illustrating how to fight discrimination.
“For example, classroom discussions and other school activities should be structured to help students grapple with current events and conflicting viewpoints in constructive ways, and not in ways that result in the targeting of particular students for harassment or blame,” the letter read.
The note also comes with a list of government resources to further support school leaders.