May 21, 2020 — This month, the Sikh Coalition joined with co-counsel at the Law Offices of Brian M. Cige to file a complaint against the Gloucester County Special Services School District Board of Education, located in Sewell, New Jersey. The complaint addresses the case of a Sikh student (who remains anonymous, because they are still a minor) enrolled at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology, who has suffered under a pattern of bias-based bullying since 2018. It calls for acknowledgement of the school district’s wrongdoing, training and processes to better recognize bias-motivated harassment in the future, and damages.
Despite being subjected to slurs based on their actual and perceived race, derogatory comments about their articles of faith, and other bullying and harassment to the point that they were permanently pulled out of school, the student’s pleas for help from the school district have been repeatedly brushed aside by educators and administrators. Prior to the filing of this complaint, the Sikh Coalition worked with the family to formally appeal the negative finding of the school district’s initial investigation. Both the first investigation and the appeal ended with the school board refusing to take action; officials ignored the clear pattern of harassment, and insisted on characterizing obviously bias-motivated attacks as harmless ‘nicknames.’
“No student should experience what my child has gone through–not the bullying by fellow students, and certainly not the indifference, dismissiveness, or criticism of the adults who are meant to protect them,” said the student’s mother, who also remains anonymous to protect her child’s identity. “I am hopeful that a civil court will recognize this clear case of bullying and take decisive action, both for the sake of my child and to create a safer learning environment for all students in this district.”
Even after more than a year out of school, the effects of the bullying on this student persist. The student remains in treatment for negative mental health consequences of their experience. And while students across New Jersey were transitioned to distance learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this student–who was already learning from home–has been subjected to additional reporting burdens and reduced learning time by the district.
“Our top priority is ensuring a safe path for this child to return to a healthy learning environment,” said Giselle Klapper, Sikh Coalition Senior Staff Attorney. “However, it is also important that the School Board recognize and remedy how their investigation failed to acknowledge–let alone appropriately respond to–the obvious bias driving this bullying behavior. This acknowledgement must be accompanied by new training and procedures to keep from repeating these mistakes in the future.”
Despite being members of the world’s fifth largest religion, the approximately 500,000 Sikhs in the United States are often subject to bias, bigotry, and backlash. This harassment often focuses on Sikhs’ visible articles of faith, including unshorn hair, head coverings, steel bracelets, and other items. The bullying of Sikh youth on the basis of their perceived and actual identity remains a systemic problem in the United States, as per the results of the Sikh Coalition 2014 survey and report entitled Go Home, Terrorist ; in the past year alone, the Sikh Coalition has received 14 legal intakes pertaining to school bullying across the country.
The Sikh Coalition looks forward to providing further updates on this case moving forward.
For more than 19 years, the Sikh Coalition has worked to create safer and more inclusive schools for Sikhs and other religious minorities through legal action and advocacy work. For more detailed information on the Sikh community, faith, and traditions, please see our Sikhism Reporter’s Guide or contact Graham West or Rajanpreet Kaur.
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Published at Thu, 21 May 2020 18:23:00 +0000