‘Bullying is not a rite of passage’

California activists laud new law to educate all school staff on how to recognize the problem as a civil rights issue and stop it

 

Ritu Jha

 

When a Sacramento County student began crying after being bullied in class for wearing a headscarf, her teacher pushed the girl to explain to the class why she was wearing the scarf, putting her under even more stress.

That was what led to California Governor Jerry Brown September 18 signing into law a bill authored by Assemblyman David Chiu addressing school bullying and which requires the state Department of Education to develop guidelines to prevent it and to make training modules available to teachers and staff across the state.

Assembly Bill 2291 was sponsored by Advancing Justice-CA, Advancement Project, CAIR-CA, and Equality CA.

“There are other methods the teacher could have taken to de-escalate the situation. She could have educated the students herself. That could have had a different impact on the class,” Andrew Medina, policy manager at Advancing Justice-CA, told indica on why they advocated for the Assembly Bill 2291.

“Teachers have a tool to make sure they can help and handle such situation when it comes in the class,” Medina said.

This bill would require the department to post on its Internet Web site the online training module developed by the department along with an annually updated list of other available online training modules relating to bullying or bullying prevention.

The bill also calls for a school operated by a school district or a county office of education and charter school to annually make the online training module available to certificated school site employees and all other school site employees who regularly interact with students.

It is not the first time the California governor has signed a bill to stop bullying at schools. In 2016 he signed Assembly Bill (AB) 2845 to protect vulnerable Muslim and Sikh students facing bullying in school. That bill required the superintendent of public instruction to post anti-bullying resources related to affiliation or perceived affiliation with any religion, nationality, race, or ethnicity on its website.

Yannina Casillas, legislative and government relations coordinator at the Council of American-Islamic Relations, California (CAIR-CA), told that while Bill 2845 worked its effect was slow to show. She said Bill 2291 is unique because it not only targets teachers but all staff and administrators, including cafeteria personnel, janitors and bus drivers.

“Bullying does not just occur in the classroom but outside, too. A lot of teachers aren’t equipped to handle, or even understand, how to approach bullying,” Casillas said, adding that she believed the workshops offered could help them recognize bullying.

“We will give them resources and how to use it,” she said. “The California Department of Education will be making a curriculum and offer training and they will have a different number of modules and chapters, and will be available online. It’s the first step.” She added that CAIR-CA has been working on this bill with other organizations since last December.

In 2016-2017 CAIR-CA surveyed 1,041 students between the ages of 11 and 18 enrolled in public and non-Muslim private schools throughout California. Of the American Muslim students surveyed, 53 percent reported being subjected to some form of bullying based on their religion. Only 32 percent of students felt their problems were resolved after reporting them to an adult.

An Advancing Justice-CA press note asserts that hateful and inflammatory speech on the national front has increased since the 2016 elections and that immigrants and other vulnerable communities are frequently scapegoated. Studies have shown that this harmful rhetoric trickles down to schools, it said.

It said that every year school districts lose roughly $276 million due to student absenteeism caused by bullying, and that AB 2291 builds upon previous legislation that required resources to support students who have already been bullied, but not to prevent bullying.

Pritpal Kaur, education director at The Sikh Coalition, told indica that California is taking the necessary steps to improve the Safe Place to Learn Act that the Sikh Coalition helped introduce in 2016.

“Religious-based bullying remains a problem in the state and is a critically important issue to our community as California is home to the nation’s largest Sikh American community,” she said. “A survey conducted by the Sikh Coalition in 2010 revealed that turbaned Sikh youth in California’s schools face astronomical bullying rates – as high as 74 percent because of their religion.”

“We hope that school districts across the state will utilize some anti-bullying resources developed by civil rights organizations such as ours to help educate school officials, students, and community members about the challenges faced by our communities,” Kaur said, adding that the group recently launched a Back to School toolkit specifically to address this issue.

“While this alone won’t help end the serious problem of bullying it is a good step forward in the right direction,: Kaur said. “Bullying is not a rite of passage; it is a civil rights issue that will continue to require attention until all of our children are safe from the threat.”

Aarti Kohli, executive director of Advancing Justice’s Asian Law Caucus, in a press note, said, “This law will ensure that California remains at the forefront of championing safe environments for immigrant and vulnerable communities.”

“We’re responsible for creating the next generation of leaders,” she said. “We must ensure that they understand the meaning of respect.”

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