US NEWS RELIG-MUSLIM-BULLYING SD

Muslim students pray at UC San Diego as other students surrounded them in support on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. (K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

SAN DIEGO — A legal group and six parents have filed a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of a San Diego Unified School District plan to protect Muslim students from bullying.

“It’s our position that the anti-bullying policies should protect all students regardless of ethnicity and affiliation, and they shouldn’t be singling out any religious group for special treatment, as they seem to be doing here,” said Charles LiMandri, president and chief council for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit in federal court Tuesday on behalf of the parents.

In April, trustees in the district voted to create a policy that would protect Muslim students from bullying by, among other steps, increasing lessons about Islam.

Students already learn about Islam and other religions as part of a social studies curriculum set by the state, but additional lessons could be added to create a better understanding of the religion, district staff members said.

LiMandri and others who have objected to the policy said they are concerned the lessons could cross the line separating church and state.

The anti-bullying policy is part of a larger effort the district has adopted to make campuses safe for all students. Such policies also have been created for LGBTQ students and students who are Native American or Latino.

The latest anti-bullying step was sparked by a 2015 Council on American-Islamic Relations Report that found 55 percent of American Muslim students surveyed in California said they were bullied because of their religion.

The district didn’t have data about how many of those incidents happened in its schools, but a report to the board in April did note that there were seven incidents of bullying last year between July 1 and Dec. 31, although it didn’t specify which religion was targeted.

“That’s a relatively small number, and it does not warrant or justify a wholesale change in the school district or its curriculum,” LiMandri said.

“It appears to us that this is a politically correct type of solution looking for a problem,” he continued. “If Muslim students are being bullied, stop the bullying. But you don’t need to implement a program that is favoring Muslim students or one religion over another.”

No representative of the school district would comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.

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