New Survey: Muslim Students in California More Likely to Be Bullied

Muslim teenagers attend a training to counter bullying at the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose on Sept. 13, 2019. (Sruti Mamidanna/KQED)

Muslim kids in California schools continue to report being bullied or harassed at a higher rate than other students in the state and the country, according to a new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The survey, released Wednesday, found 40% of respondents, ages 11 to 18, experienced bullying at school for being Muslim. That figure included 16% who said they were abused or harassed at least once a week, once a month or "sometimes."

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The mistreatment included students being called terrorists, made fun of because they wore a hijab, and reduced to tears from teasing, the report said.

"Sometimes people might say, 'Hey, going to bomb the school now?' " said a student quoted in the study, which gathered anonymous responses from 1,500 kids in public and private schools.

A similar survey by the organization in 2017 found more than half of Muslim students reported being made fun of, insulted or abused, which authors linked to "Islamophobic rhetoric" in the 2016 presidential campaign.

"I am cautiously optimistic that there is a drop in these reported numbers of bullying," said Ammad Wajahat Rafiqi, an attorney with CAIR in San Francisco, who contributed to the latest report. "But we are also concerned that the numbers continue to be very high."

School administrators and teachers are becoming more aware of the problem, Rafiqi said. But the California Department of Education should do more to uphold students' right to be educated in a safe environment by mandating and funding anti-bullying training at schools, he added.

"If stricter legislation as well as more proactive and mandatory trainings aren't implemented, we might continue to see these numbers in the years moving forward," he said.

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Only 72% of Muslim students reported feeling comfortable telling others they are Muslim, down from 77% in the 2017 report.

Children who are harassed and mistreated at school have a higher risk for anxiety and depression, said Nadia Ansary, an associate professor at Rider University in New Jersey who studies discrimination and bullying of Muslim youth.

A state law authored by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, requires school districts to adopt procedures by the end of the year to prevent bullying, including cyberbullying.

To comply with that law, Assembly Bill 2291, the California Department of Education posted online an anti-bullying training module that schools must offer to teachers and other employees who have regular interaction with students.

“In the era of Trump and abhorrent attacks on our immigrant communities, the fact that 40% of Muslim students have faced bullying is extremely troubling, but not surprising," Chiu said in a statement. "Moving forward, we will be monitoring this issue and working with advocates to see what steps can be taken to make sure all students feel safe and welcome at school.”

Nationwide, 20% of students ages 12 to 18 report being bullied at school for a variety of reasons such as race, appearance, sexual orientation and religion, according to 2017 data published by the U.S. Department of Education.

Figures from the California Department of Education show about one in three students in middle and high school report being bullied for any reason. The data was collected from 2015 to 2017, the most recent available.

CAIR's survey covered the Greater Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento Valley, Central California and San Francisco Bay Area regions.