When the San Diego Unified School District decided earlier this month to make a concerted effort to address Islamophobia, the move was applauded by the Council on American Islamic Relations as “robust and beautiful.”
This week, however, as San Diego Unified moved ahead with its plans to roll out the initiative, hardline conservative media outlets began zeroing in the program, claiming it was a fanatical scheme to bring “Sharia law” to children.
The program—created in partnership with CAIR—involves recognizing Muslim holidays, helping educate students about the history of Islam, and using a restorative justice approach to help create dialogue between those who bully Muslim students and their victims, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“It’s more of a comprehensive program, not just a curriculum,” district executive director of family and community engagement Stan Anjan told the Times. “We’re looking at it from a very integrated and holistic approach.”
As the San Diego Union Tribune reported on Monday, that “holistic” approach was almost immediately criticized as potentially violating the separation of church and state, as well as singling out Muslim students for preferential treatment. The district addressed many of those concerns in a brief FAQ on its website, explaining in part that:
“We believe all our schools should be safe places for all our students. In this context, we mean our Muslim students should be able to attend school without fear of bullying. Schools with large Muslim communities may choose to make areas available for prayer, if that is requested by their parents and students. However, this is no more or less than we would do to accommodate Christians who want to pray at school, or members of other faiths. It is not uncommon, for example, for our schools to have a prayer club that meets before the start of school.”
Nevertheless, Breitbart attacked the plan in a story bursting with scare quotes around terms like “anti-Islamophobia” and “safe spaces.” The piece made a special point of targeting CAIR’s participation in the initiative.
Criticism of the district’s plan grew even more hysterical when the Angry Patriot outlet (Facebook fans: 1,100,000) accused the district of “[Surrendering] to Sharia Law.”
“They are going to punish children suspected of bullying Muslim students. However, these punishments are also extremely odd and Islam-centric,” the site wrote. “Detention is going to be a thing of the past. Now, they are going to have to work with Muslim students and learn more about the culture. Essentially, their punishment for suspected bullying is to be BRAINWASHED into accepting Sharia law.”
The story currently has more than 35,000 likes on Facebook.
On its FAQ page, the district directly addresses the accusation, answering the question “are you implementing Sharia law” with a simple and declarative “no.”
The anti-Islamophobia initiative makes San Diego the largest school district to implement a program focused on its Muslim students, following Kansas City public schools, and the Oakland Unified School District, ABC News reported.
The district has scheduled a public forum to further explain the program to concerned community members on Tuesday night. According to the Union Tribune, turnout is expected to be huge.