Survey shows Islamophobia is prevalent in California schools

A new survey and report on bullying from the Council on American-Islamic Relations California (CAIR-CA) shows that Muslim students in California continue to experience high levels of Islamophobic bullying, harassment and discrimination by both peers and adults, in person and online.

Examining Islamophobia in California Schools found that 47 percent of respondents said they had been bullied for being Muslim in the year and a half prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, up from 40 percent in the 2019 report. However, during distance learning, this number went down to 26 percent, in line with a decrease in all forms of bullying. As a 17-year-old public school student from Alameda County reported: “Bullying has decreased because there are less opportunities to talk in class, and of course not having transition periods or lunch breaks.”

More than 55 percent of respondents reported feeling unsafe, unwelcome or uncomfortable at school because of their Muslim identity. This is the highest reported level since CAIR-CA began conducting its biennial surveys in 2013. In addition, bullying is causing students to miss school all together, with nearly 20 percent of respondents reporting being absent because of those feelings. Perhaps more troubling, 24 percent of respondents said that a teacher, administrator or other adult at their school made offensive comments about Islam or Muslims. About one in five respondents disagreed with the statement that “When my teachers teach lessons about Islam or Muslims, they did so in a neutral, fair and factual manner.”

Of those who said they had heard offensive Islamophobic comments from adults, 26 percent said they do not feel safe, welcome and respected at their school.” Only 5 percent of students who had not experienced an adult at their school making an offensive comment about Islam or Muslims felt the same way.

Pre-pandemic, 61 percent of respondents that reported they were bullied also reported seeing another student get bullied for being Muslim in comparison to only 22 percent of those who were not themselves bullied. “This data suggests that some schools allow bullying to go unchecked thus encouraging more bullying while other schools take a more proactive approach to creating an inclusive and more welcome environment where bullying is not tolerated,” the report states.

The report concludes with a call to action for school districts to learn lessons from the decrease in bullying during distance learning and ensure that educators and administrators who are aware of bullying to immediately act to increase adult supervision of the aggressor and separate the bully and victim from in-person interactions as much as possible.

The report includes a poignant section, “In their own words,” which provides first-hand accounts of the harassment many Muslim students are facing. The following is just a sampling to provide real-world context for the statistics above:

  • One teacher said that we are a religion of blood and war and that all we want is the end of all humans.
  • Someone asked me if I was going to blow up the school and if I was reading a book on bombs.
  • My science teacher told me that ‘my type’ like flying planes into buildings.

“CAIR-CA urges our schools to make the changes necessary to ensure the well-being of Muslim students and all vulnerable students are protected. In addition to taking immediate steps to address specific incidents of bullying, schools should conduct a thorough assessment of the school’s environment as it pertains to Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias and bullying; improving and implementing thorough anti-bullying policies and training; and implementing curriculum that is anti-racist and inclusive,” the report concludes.