In communities across the country, our public schools bring together young people of all identities, beliefs, and experiences. And yet, a rightwing media narrative around how many schools are addressing the role of race in American history has spurred a renewed movement to silence teachers who would offer nuanced perspectives on this legacy. From banned book lists to state bills that would prohibit causing “discomfort or guilt” in history courses, these efforts by powerful adults make clear to students whose stories do – and do not – belong in the classroom.
In this polarized environment, young people of minority faiths and those who are nonreligious face unique barriers to safe and inclusive schools. These students are far more likely to be targeted because of their beliefs, particularly in areas that are religiously homogeneous and for students whose religious tradition is visibly identifiable. The U.S. Department of Education is working to understand the nature of bullying and harassment that students are experiencing, recently inviting stakeholders to comment on a proposal to implement a mandatory reporting process as part of the Department’s biennial Civil Rights Data Collection.
Interfaith Alliance welcomed this opportunity and worked together with partners in the education policy, faith-based, and secular communities to offer specific recommendations to ensure this process is both effective and does not expose students to further mistreatment. For instance, under the proposed reporting system, school administrators would be asked to choose from a list of fourteen religious affiliations of the student-victim. Particularly in communities that are predominantly of one religion, the very places where religious discrimination and harassment is most likely to occur, administrators may have difficulty with this assessment due to their own lack of familiarity with minority traditions. We urged the Department to work with stakeholder religious and nonreligious groups to develop appropriate guidance and training materials to help school officials to discern when bullying and harassment is directed toward particular religious or nonreligious identities or beliefs before mandating collection of this data.
No child should feel unsafe or unwelcome at school because of who they are, what they believe, or how they learn. Interfaith Alliance works to strengthen public schools and foster opportunities for students of all backgrounds and abilities to thrive. This means grappling with some of the more painful aspects of American history while working to ensure that community institutions celebrate our diversity of belief and culture.
Read the full comments, submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on February 11, 2022. Interfaith Alliance is joined by American Atheists; the Center for American Progress, K-12 Education Program; the Coalition on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); Muslim Advocates; and the Sikh Coalition.
Learn more about our work to promote inclusive education and invest in public schools.