HomeCampusBerkeley schools investigated over alleged harassment of Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims

Berkeley schools investigated over alleged harassment of Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) over allegations of racist discrimination against Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims.

In May, the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed an 11-page complaint accused the district of failing to respond to harassment of students and employees since October 2023.

According to both groups, this harassment includes the physical assault and non-consensual filming of students participating in pro-Palestinian walkouts.

Other incidents include Arab and Muslim students being called “terrorists” and being met with taunts about 9/11, a student’s hijab being ripped off in-class, and a Palestinian student nearly being assaulted by a community member while speaking about Palestinian human rights at a Berkeley High School rally.

More allegations include the censorship of Arab and Palestinian students and those who support them, and that the district has failed to provide Arabic language resources for Arabic speaking parents.

In addition a professor of Palestinian history was supposed to meet with students in a high school history class as a guest speaker, but administrators told the teacher not to do so over safety concerns. A middle school teacher was also told to not use the words “genocide” or “ceasefire”.

As a result of these events, students reportedly felt “significant fear, anxiety, stress, humiliation, and emotional pain” that affected their “sleep, appetite, and ability to focus,” according to the complaint.

In an statement emailed to the San Francisco Chronicle, BUSD Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel said that the district supports an investigation into the allegations of discrimination against Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims.

“The District recognizes this complaint process as an important civil rights protection mechanism and welcomes this opportunity to evaluate our policies and procedures so that we may continue to advance our mission and values,” Morthel stated.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will be investigating these allegations starting Friday. The investigations will see if the district responded to the claims of unfair treatment and harassment, whether the district violated students rights under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and whether Arabic-speaking students were denied access to mental health care.

Zahra Billoo, the executive director of CAIR-SFBA, said “The opening of this investigation is a necessary step to ensure that BUSD meets its legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is crucial that all students, regardless of their background, feel safe and supported in their educational environment,” in a statement released Monday.

In the same statement, Molly Sampson, a BUSD parent, said “As a parent within the Berkeley Unified School District, I am relieved that the U.S. Department of Education is stepping in to investigate these serious allegations. Our children deserve to learn in an environment free from hate and discrimination.”

This investigation comes four months after the BUSD was accused of widespread antisemitic bullying and harassment against Jewish students by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

Morthel testified in front of Congress members in May, alongside district leaders in New York and Maryland over their handling of antisemitism. At the hearing, Morthel denied that antisemitism was rampant in Berkeley schools, saying that “every single time that we are aware of such an incident, we take action and we follow up,” according to Berkeleyside.

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