Mesa Union School District faces backlash on alleged Islamophobic rhetoric in social studies class
An advocacy group alleges a seventh-grade social studies teacher disseminated "Islamophobic" classroom material at Mesa Union School. The district asserts it continues to seek a resolution to the matter, but cannot comment on specific allegations.
The Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations recently filed an appeal with the California Department of Education on behalf of a Muslim family whose son is in the class .
The appeal is challenging a finding by the Somis-based Mesa Union School District in response to a complaint that found the teacher's actions were not discriminatory.
The Council on American Islamic Relations is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialog, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
The complaint was first filed with the district in late October when the teacher allegedly taught a lesson with a worksheet that contained information from the website billionbibles.org, which aims to "promote Christianity through disparaging Islam," according to the advocacy group.
The complaint is under the Uniform Complaint Procedures scope, according to the advocacy group. This kind of complaint is one regarding the violation of specific federal and state programs that use categorical funds, according to the California Department of Education.
The Mesa Union School District is unable to comment on any specific allegations contained in any uniform complaint, the investigation conducted, the findings issued or the interim or final actions taken by the district in response to the complaint, Superintendent Jeff Turner said.
"The district takes all complaints seriously and responds swiftly and consistent with Board Policy and Administrative Regulation 1312.3," Turner said in an email to The Star. "The district continues to seek a resolution of this matter."
A Muslim student in the class told his parents, Carolyn Rodriguez-Quddus and Azfar Quddus, about the worksheet. They tried to arrange a meeting with the teacher but said the meeting never happened.
They then reached out to the Council on American Islamic Relations. The student now sits in the library during that class time, because it's too uncomfortable to be in class, the parents said. The teacher has remained in the classroom since the complaint was filed with the district.
"I picked up my son from school, he was crying and visibly upset and very emotional. When I asked what happened, he just shook his head and handed me the worksheet which he told me he was given in class," said Azfar Quddus, the student's father, in an email to The Star. "I looked at the sheet and was immediately horrified. I became even more upset as I read through it. I told my son this is false, this is not what Islam is; this is wrong."
Azfar Quddus said his son hasn't felt the same about going to school since the alleged October incident.
"Our son is devastated. Since October he has started wearing his hood all the time at school to avoid being noticed. He lives in fear of the teacher, who he feels must hate him, and goes out of his way to avoid any area of campus where he might accidentally be seen by the teacher," Azfar Quddus said. "He was once a student who took pride in striving to make the honor roll, competing in a healthy manner to get the highest grade in the class, and overall enjoying being a seventh grader. Now he experiences stomach and headaches and extreme anxiety about attending school."
The district, after a 60-day investigation, found nothing wrong with the supplemental material the teacher provided students, according to the advocacy group. The advocacy group said the worksheet included inaccurate information regarding Islam.
Information on the worksheet included statements like: "A woman cannot drive a car, as it leads to fitnah (upheaval)," "Muslim men have sexual rights to any woman/girl not wearing Hijab," "Meat to eat must come from animals that have been sacrificed to Allah i.e. be 'Halal,'" according to the advocacy group.
"Our family feels violated by the teacher's Islamophobic and unconstitutional conduct in the classroom," Azfar Quddus said. "We feel especially sad that this was done to our 12-year-old child who now feels like an outsider at his own school."
Quddus said he and his wife were "astonished" their son was removed from class and the teacher was not removed during the course of the investigation.
"The school district's approach to this has been to change the student's experience at school, to try to answer this through changing the experience of the student," said Patricia Shnell, a civil rights attorney at CAIR-LA. " ... This is so much bigger ... the school has failed completely to speak to the seriousness of the violation.
"It's completely fallen short of anything that looks like a reasonable response," Shnell said.
Shnell said the district stood behind the teacher, claiming the "Islamaphobic" nature of the website was unclear to the teacher.
"Even if you only looked at one page on the website there is sufficient information to assess that this is not a neutral way to portray the subject," Shnell said. "... It's so far from what a best practice would be."
The family and Council on American Islamic Relations Los Angeles chapter declined to provide the original uniform complaint and the appeal to the California Department of Education until there is a resolution.
Shnell said she hopes the appeal will result in the re-teaching of Islam, with experts, to "deconstruct the damage that has been done."
Shnell said the appeal requested sensitivity training and training for bullying response in the district and ultimately it requested the teacher be removed from the classroom.
Once the California Department of Education receives an appeal, it is reviewed and determined if it is within the department's Uniform Complaint Procedures scope, according to a California Department of Education spokesperson. If it is confirmed the appeal is within the department's scope, it's reviewed in accordance with Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations.
There is not a specific timeline outlined in the Title 5 California Code of Regulations, but the California Department of Education makes every effort to complete its review and issue a decision in a reasonable amount of time, the spokesperson said.