Colleges and K-12 schools across the nation are being urged by the US Department of Education to watch for harassment and discrimination based on natural origin, religion, or race. The announcement is a response by the Department to anti-Muslim and anti-refugee negative opinions that seem to be growing in the US.
The Washington Post's Emma Brown writes that Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and his replacement John King, Jr., in an open letter cited international and domestic events that have caused the urgent need to provide safe spaces for students. Duncan, who stepped down from his office on the same day the letter was released, was replaced by John King, Jr., who had served as acting secretary.
The kinds of behavior to watch for, according to the education leaders, include name-calling, physical attacks, and the bullying of individual students. The letter enumerated the types of students who stand to be singled out as Syrian, Muslim, Middle Eastern, Arab, Sikh, Jewish, or students of color.
The guidelines have been distributed to schools after attacks in San Bernardino, California and in Paris, which ignited Muslim backlash and a heated controversy as to whether or not the US should allow Syrian refugees escaping from violence in their homeland to seek sanctuary in the United States.
Over two dozen GOP governors have stated that they are against welcoming Syrian refugees, and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump believes no Muslim refugees should be allowed in the US.
This sort of rhetoric can create contention that can rob students of their opportunity to learn, take away their sense of well-being, provoke acts of additional violent behavior, and increase conflicts in the general community, according to the letter.
Over the past year, reports the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), there has been an increase in the bullying and discrimination toward Muslim youth in schools. CAIR adds that one in five Muslim students reported being the target of discrimination by a teacher, administrator, or school staff member.
The letter from the Education Department stressed that teachers play the most important role in creating a safe and welcoming culture within the country's schools. The letter noted:
"Because parents and students look to you for leadership, their hearing from you that such conduct is unconditionally wrong and will not be tolerated in our schools will make a real difference."
In California, a recent survey found that 55% of Muslim youth ages 11 to 18 and living in the state had been bullied because of their religious beliefs this year, reported Nicole Gorman of Education World.
Dr. Susan Berry of Breitbart said that in December, Anne Richard, an official at the State Department, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that 4% of all Syrians who have come to the US have been Christian or other religious minorities.
CNS News reports that of the 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted to the US since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, only 53 are Christians while 2,098 are Muslims.
At a meeting held in November, college campus leaders from around the country developed a list of actions meant to serve as steps toward solving racism on campus. Their ideas included: developing a statement of values for the school, creating cultural competency courses, taking advantage of "teachable moments," having school leaders model inclusive behavior, ensuring that school leadership is diversified, dealing with complaints quickly, and supporting school-led endeavors.
"The consequences of encountering Islamophobia at school are numerous," CAIR states. "Muslim students may feel marginalized, disempowered, and begin to internalize negative stereotypes. Minority students who feel disconnected or alienated from the school environment will lack confidence, suffer academically, and fail to fully invest in their future."