Judge Considers Whether Bullying Policy Is Religious Discrimination

SAN DIEGO (CN) – A federal judge Tuesday considered whether a bullying policy aimed at fighting Islamophobia at one of the largest school districts in California violates the civil rights of students of other faiths.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant heard arguments about whether a lawsuit filed by a group of San Diego Unified School District parents – Citizens for Quality Education San Diego – over the school’s bullying program to fight Islamophobia was moot, since the school district has since revised the bullying initiative to be more inclusive.

The parents group sued the school district last year after the school board voted to approve the initiative, which was set to include education on Muslim culture and provide resources to teachers, with assistance from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

In February, the parents asked Bashant to bar the school district from implementing the initiative, accusing CAIR of using it to “advance their organizational objectives within the district.”

Tuesday’s court hearing mostly focused on whether the parent group’s claims were moot, however, as the school district revised its anti-Islamophobia initiative and never implemented the one meant to prevent bullying of Muslim students.

Barnhorst Scheiner attorney Teresa Mendoza, representing the parents group, told Bashant Tuesday “the voluntary cessation of a constitutional violation is not necessarily something that will eliminate the constitutional violation.”

She noted her clients had the “reasonable expectation” the school district would continue to infringe the rights of students of other faiths due to “continued collusion” between the school district and CAIR.

Bashant said the “evidence supports the fact they discontinued a formal relationship,” adding that the parents group may not have standing to bring the lawsuit.

“What concrete injury do plaintiffs suffer from the district having a relationship with CAIR?” she asked.

Paul Plevin attorney Mike Sullivan, representing the school district, said the parents group’s lawsuit was aimed at attacking “the existence of an ongoing relationship between the school district and CAIR … that is not inappropriate in any way.”

Sullivan argued the case was moot since the anti-Islamophobia policy was “never implemented” after the school district received public backlash. He said the new policy is “absolutely neutral.”

Mendoza pushed back by claiming CAIR benefited from the anti-Islamophobia policy and its relationship with the school district because the school district purchased books it recommended. She said the school district is not “dialoguing” with other religious groups, which “shows their preference” for Islam.

She also pointed out the school district already has a blanket anti-bullying policy, which should protect all students if applied correctly, eliminating the need for a separate policy Mendoza said was “kowtowing” to CAIR.

“If they already have a neutral policy in effect that protects all students but then they bring in a special policy to protect one certain religious group, it takes away the neutrality factor,” Mendoza said.

Bashant challenged Mendoza’s insistence that the bullying of Muslim students is not an “epidemic,” pointing out testimony by Muslim students at school board meetings and “national events.”

“Can’t non-Muslims be exposed to and harmed by Islamophobia, too?” Bashant asked.

Sullivan compared the anti-Islamophobia initiative to targeted efforts during the Civil Rights era and the need to protect African-American students during school desegregation. He said the policy was not about religious preference, but protecting students.

Bashant took the matter under submission and will issue a written ruling.

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