Bullying’s new form: fasting child forced to watch others eat

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An anti-bullying billboard hangs on a building in downtown Boston, Massachusetts March 3, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

NEW YORK – In the annals of vicious school bullying across the United States, yet another inglorious chapter has been added with an alleged incident where a school employee in New York forced a 9-year-old Muslim child who was fasting during Ramadan, to sit in the school cafeteria and watch other children eat.

According to a civil rights complaint filed last week by the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, against the New York City Department of Education for its lack of action to faith-based administrative bullying, a Public School 264 employee “weaponized Zaman Mashrah’s nine-year old son’s Muslim faith to punish him for allegedly laughing during a lunch break.”

On May 14, 2019, during Ramadan while Mashrah’s son was fasting, the school employee informed the child that since he was laughing “you must sit in the cafeteria and watch all the kids eat while you are fasting!” says the complaint.

As her child was forced to watch the non-fasting students eat their lunch, Mashrah’s son “felt humiliated and ostracized for his religious practices.”  The other fasting students were escorted to the theater during lunch per school policy.  After the school day, Mashrah’s son wept in his mother’s arms and broke down in tears as he recounted the bullying incident to the principal, the report said.

The complaint says despite immediately reporting the incident, the school employee was not punished and continues to be employed. Mashrah transferred her child to a different school because he no longer felt safe at P.S. 264.  Her son has been traumatized and no longer wants to openly express or show his Muslim faith at school, says the complaint.

Mashraha, in a statement, said her son was “humiliated, intimidated, and emotionally abused” by the staff member, adding that her family has been in distress, and my child’s education and social and emotional wellbeing continues to be affected.”

Bullying of Muslim children, especially, in the US has been on the rise the last few years.

NPR reported two years ago, Muslim children are more likely to be bullied in school than children of other faiths. A survey then by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding revealed that 42 percent of Muslims with children in K–12 schools report bullying of their children because of their faith, compared with 23 percent of Jewish and 20 percent of Protestant parents.

A questionnaire sent to educators nationwide by Maureen Costello, director of the Teaching Tolerance program at the Southern Poverty Law Center, during the last Presidential election, saw some startling facts: 90 percent of educators reported that school climate had been negatively affected by the election. In an earlier survey, in 2016, with over 5,000 respondents, more than 1,000 mentioned Donald Trump — five times more than the other politicians mentioned in the survey combined.

In 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union had filed letters of complaint with the Department of Justice and Department of Education on behalf of an 11-year-old Muslim Somali refugee student who was repeatedly discriminated against by his teacher in Arizona.

“I can’t wait until Trump is elected. He’s going to deport all you Muslims,” the teacher exclaimed, according to the ACLU letter of complaint, reported by NPR. “Muslims shouldn’t be given visas. They’ll probably take away your visa and deport you. You’re going to be the next terrorist, I bet.”

Soon after, the boy’s classmates followed the teacher’s lead and called him a terrorist, according to the complaint. They also accused him of planning to blow up the school bus on the ride home. When the boy’s mother complained to the school, administrators encouraged him to withdraw.

According to Stop Bullying, the 2017 School Crime Supplement indicates that nationwide, about 20% of students between the ages of 12 and 18 experienced bullying.

Nicholas Carlisle, the founder and President of No Bully, a San Francisco based non-profit that is one of the largest anti-bullying organizations in the world, and Robert Rees, who teaches religion at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, writing in the Mercury News, this week, pointed out that according to a UNESCO report published earlier this year, almost one in three children is bullied every month and in some countries the frequency is double (a staggering 60% to 70%). If bullying were a disease, leaders and parents would urgently be demanding that action be taken to address it, they said.

The duo wrote that researchers at King’s College, London, found that children bullied at school were still experiencing negative effects on their physical and mental health more than 40 years later.

In 2012, the Highmark Foundation issued a report estimating that the lifetime cost to society of not preventing high school bullying averages $1.4 million for each adolescent who is bullying or being bullied.

There’s hope, though, that the scourge of bullying could not only be countered but wiped out from school campuses.

Some schools that implement a program called KiVa, started in Finland, have reduced the frequency of bullying to less than 12%. Research conducted by No Bully, the California based non-profit, shows that teachers trained in their methodology are able to solve close to 90% of the incidents that still occur.

KiVa (kivaprogram.net) includes both ‘universal’ and ‘indicated’ actions. The universal actions, such as the KiVa curriculum (student lessons and online games), are directed at all students and focus mainly on preventing bullying. The indicated actions are used when a bullying case has emerged. They are targeted specifically to the children and adolescents who have been involved in bullying as perpetrators or victims, as well as to several classmates who are challenged to support the victim. The program caters to three age-groups: for children of 6-9 years of age; children of 10-12 years of age, and for also students of around 13-16 years of age.

Some schools are actively trying to get rid of the menace of bullying, and taking the lead this week is an elementary school in Portsmouth, Virginia. Bullying emanates from an early age, and the best way to eliminate it is to start acting on it right from the elementary school.

WTKR.com reported this week that Westhaven Elementary School hosted a ‘Children’s Community March Against Bullying’. The community around the school and community leaders joined the students and marched several blocks near the campus. Every day this week, students in that school are taking part in specific themes to help fight against bullying.

Robert Williams, the Operations Manager of Coastal Virginia Community Development, had an emphatic message: “We’ve empowered the students to let them know that they are ultimately… it’s on them. Bullying is going to be eradicated. It has to be done by the students.”

Williams noted the dangerous curve bullying has taken over the years: “A lot of the time bullying was more overt, where someone would push someone around physically and that would be the bullying. But now, bullying has now become something that they can cyberbullying.”

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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