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USA: Landmark Settlement for Sikh Middle Schooler targeted by Bullies; Justice Dept takes action on complaint by Sikh Coalition

May 11, 2013 | By

New York, United States (May 11, 2013) According to a recent release by the Sikh Coalition in an unprecedented victory for Sikh students in United States, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the DeKalb County School District (School District) in Atlanta, Georgia on behalf of a Sikh victim of school bullying.

“This is the first time the federal government has entered into a settlement on a school bullying matter involving a Sikh student. The settlement sends a clear message to school districts nationwide that they must take effective action to end bias-based bullying of all school children, including Sikh children”, the release reads.

According to the Sikh Coalition the Sikh middle-schooler, whose identity is being withheld because he is a minor, had been subjected to years of bias-based bullying and verbal and physical harassment by a number of different students. The Sikh student was referred to as “Osama,” a “terrorist,” and “curryhead,” and told he has a “bomb on his head,” and to “go back to your country.” These incidents occurred both at school and on the school bus.

He also suffered physical harassment. In one incident, a few strands of his hair were cut by another student during class. The Sikh student reported these incidents to the School District and although it responded to some of the complaints by disciplining the harassers, the measures were ineffective in stopping the harassment.

Since October 2012, the Sikh Coalition has represented the student and placed the School District on notice of ongoing harassment, and demanded safety plans and effective remedial measures to diminish the hostile educational environment, including anti-harassment training. After repeated inaction from the School District, the Sikh Coalition filed legal complaints with the Department of Justice, alleging violations of federal law.

The Sikh Coalition’s complaints prompted a federal investigation that directly led to the historic public settlement. The settlement, which remains in effect until the end of the 2014-2015 school year, provides, in part, that:

The school district will immediately implement a safety plan to ensure that the student is safe at middle school and at high school;

The school district will make available a Punjabi interpreter for the student’s parents and ensure all essential written documents are translated into Punjabi if requested;

The school district, working with a consultant mutually agreed upon by the DOJ, must develop and implement mandatory age-appropriate anti-harassment training for all students and staff who interact with students at the middle school and high school. The training must include a discussion on the root causes of religious and national origin harassment and harms, including post-9/11 backlash and the perpetuation of negative stereotypes impacting the Sikh, Muslim, Arab-American, and South Asian communities.

This settlement demonstrates the DOJ’s commitment to ending the bias-based bullying and harassment of Sikh students.

According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, rates of bullying against Sikh children “range from roughly half to over three-quarters.” The Sikh Coalition’s various bullying reports confirm that Sikh students suffer high rates of bias-based bullying and harassment at schools nationwide.

“Our schools should be places where children quench their intellectual curiosity, not places where they endure hatred and fear. Many students and parents do not realize that bullying can often be a legal problem, especially when a school district fails to take appropriate action. This settlement sends a clear message to schools nationwide that we will no longer tolerate inadequate measures to address school bullying. We commend the DOJ and the School District for ensuring the safety of Sikh youth and procuring this historic settlement,” said Gurjot Kaur, Staff Attorney at the Sikh Coalition.

Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at DOJ stated, “Students of all faiths must be protected from harassment and other forms of discrimination. We commend the district for stepping forward and putting student safety first. We are encouraged by the district’s resolve to support and provide anti-harassment training on issues facing students from the Sikh, Muslim, Arab-American and South Asian communities.”

“I think things will be better for my son now because of this settlement. I do not have the words to thank the Sikh Coalition for their work the past few months,” said the student’s father.

“We can’t thank the Sikh Coalition enough for bringing us relief and for adequately handling an extreme bullying situation that our family has faced for years,” said the student’s sister.

“I want other students, who may have been bullied like me, to always have hope and to know that it’s never too late to speak up,” said the Sikh student.

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