Boy with turban endured verbal, physical abuse for years
American Bazaar Staff
WASHINGTON, DC: For years he was taunted, mocked at, verbally abused, within school premises and on the school bus traveling to and from home to school, with terms like “Osama,” a “terrorist,” and “curryhead,” told he has a “bomb on his head,” and “Aladdin” – because of the turban he wore on his head in adherence to his religious faith – and to “go back to your country.”
The Sikh middle school student in Atlanta, Georgia, whose name has been withheld because he is a minor, also suffered physical abuse: in one incident, a few strands of his hair were cut by another student during class. Complaints were either ignored by the authorities at the school district, or the punishment meted out to his harassers insufficient to deter and stop the abuse from continuing, said the Sikh Coalition in a press release.
Now, in an unprecedented victory for Sikh students nationwide, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the DeKalb County School District in Atlanta, on behalf of the Sikh victim.
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, says the Coalition.
According to the Justice Department, the settlement agreement, which will be in effect until the end of the 2014-2015 school year, requires the district to: work with a consultant to develop and implement anti-harassment training at the student’s middle and high school; immediately implement a safety plan to ensure that the student is safe at school and, should incidents of harassment occur, that the district responds quickly and effectively; and meet with the student, his family, and administrators from his middle school and the high school where he will enroll, to identify key school personnel who can support the student should any future incidents of harassment occur, including a translator who knows Punjabi, and can translate all pertinent documents into Punjabi for the parents of the student.
The department has opened a separate and ongoing inquiry into whether the district’s anti-harassment policies meet federal standards, whether its policies are consistently implemented, and whether employees are adequately trained to implement those policies.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in the 2013-14 term, the school district must work with a consultant to develop and implement anti-harassment training at Peachtree Charter and Dunwoody High School, where the Sikh boy is expected to enroll next term, that addresses bias based on religion and national origin. The district also must immediately implement a plan to keep the boy safe when he is at school.
The agreement goes so far as to specify where the three boys accused of harassing the other will sit on the school bus and where the boy who was their target will sit. If they must be in the same classes, the agreement also says where they will sit in relation to each other. Another student has been removed from the classes they share for the rest of this term, said the Journal-Constitution.
“Students of all faiths must be protected from harassment and other forms of discrimination,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement. “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.”
Gurjot Kaur, Staff Attorney at the Sikh Coalition, said in a statement, “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.”
The Sikh student, in a statement released by the Coalition, said: “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.”
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