NEW YORK, USA—On November 18, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it had entered into a second settlement agreement with the DeKalb County School District, near Atlanta, Georgia. This settlement agreement resulted from a complaint originally filed by the Sikh Coalition in 2013 on behalf of a DeKalb County Sikh student, who had been repeatedly bullied and harassed on the basis of his actual or perceived religion and national origin. This second settlement agreement will require DeKalb County to engage in comprehensive measures to prevent and respond to complaints of peer-to-peer bullying and harassment of its 100,000 students, including Sikh students, based on their religion and/or national origin.
This second settlement agreement demonstrates the commitment that the Sikh Coalition has made to ensure that all students are protected from bullying – in the true spirit of sarbat dha bhalla.
The Sikh student, who wears a turban, was bullied for years and referred to as “Osama,” a “terrorist,” and “curryhead,” told he has a “bomb on his head,” and to “go back to your country.” The Sikh Coalition’s Legal Program represented the student before DeKalb County and the DOJ. The student’s complaint was initially resolved with a settlement agreement issued in May 2013. The first settlement agreement required DeKalb County to create an individualized safety plan for the Sikh student and train students and staff at his former middle school and current high school on post-9/11 backlash and discrimination.
Following the May 2013 settlement, the DOJ continued to scrutinize DeKalb County’s overall policies and handling of harassment complaints based on religion and national origin for all of its students. This review led to yesterday’s seminal settlement agreement which, in part, requires DeKalb County to provide annual age and position appropriate training to more than 100,000 students and staff on the “root causes of religious and national origin harassment and the harms resulting from such conduct, including but not limited to issues related to post-9/11 backlash and the perpetuation of negative stereotypes impacting the Sikh, Muslim, South Asian, and Arab-American communities.”
To the Sikh Coalition’s knowledge, this is the first district-wide post-9/11 backlash training to be implemented by an American school district.
The agreement also requires DeKalb County to translate essential information about discipline and procedures on bullying complaints for Limited English Proficient parents in a language that they can understand.