By Ed Diokno
In the days before his deadline for signing bills into law, California’s Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill AB-2845, anti-bullying legislation also known as the Safe Place to Learn Act. Current anti-bullying laws that cite bullying due to race or ethnicity will now include bullying due to “religious affiliation” to the list of reasons bullying might occur.
Authored by Assemblymember Das Williams, this bill works to address the growing problem of bullying and discrimination based on religious affiliation or perceived religious affiliation.
AB 2845 will provide certificated staff at local education agencies with school site and community resources for students who are subject to discrimination and bullying based on actual or perceived religious affiliation. The bill also requires the Superintendent of Public Instruction to post anti-bullying resources related to affiliation or perceived affiliation with any religious group on its website.
“[This bill] is very important to Muslim and Sikh children because both of our communities have seen a huge rise in the bullying of Muslim and perceived to be Muslim students,” Saad Sweilem, civil rights attorney at CAIR-Sacramento Valley (CAIR-SV), told NBC News. “Students from both communities played an instrumental role in getting this bill passed by testifying in front of Assemblymembers about their own personal experiences being bullied.
“Our hope is that this bill provides our schools the resources they need so that they are prepared to handle these types of situations. Because of our current social and political climate, this issue is a major one and we’re very hopeful that this bill will tackle it head on.”
According to CAIR-CA, 55 percent of American Muslim students attending California public schools surveyed experience some form of bullying based on their religious identity. This is twice as high as the national statistic for students who report being bullied at school.
“Our schools should be able to provide our children education in an environment that is free from identity based blame and bullying,” says Sameena Usman, CAIR-SFBA Government Relations Coordinator.
Similarly, the Sikh Coalition has reported that 50 percent of Sikh students have encountered school bullying. This number increases significantly for turbaned Sikh students, 67 percent of whom have encountered bullying. In Fresno, 51 percent of the students surveyed by the Sikh Coalition reported that they felt school officials did not respond adequately to bullying incidents.
The statistics reflect the national trend of growing Islamaphobia, encouraged by the heated rhetoric used by the Republican candidate for president Donald Trump and his followers.
“The right to attend public school free from bullying and discrimination is a civil right. AB 2845 will help ensure that no child has to compromise their faith or identity in California schools,” said Harjit Kaur, Community Development Manager for the Sikh Coalition.