CAIR-LA Criticizes Torrance Unified School District and California Department of Education for Failing to Protect Muslim Student from Islamophobic Bullying

(ANAHEIM, CA – 8/22/19) – The Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) today criticized the Torrance Unified School District’s failure to protect a Muslim girl from Islamophobic bullying.

Further, CAIR-LA also criticized the California Department of Education’s failure to recognize Malak Hijaz, a student during the 2018-19 school year at Calle Mayor Middle School, as a victim of discriminatory harassment and bullying, despite evidence of frequent verbal assaults by schoolmates based on her ethnicity and religion. Despite concluding that Malak was the subject of behavior “that could have a negative impact on her,” the CDE excused the actions by saying that she engaged in an exchange of offensive behavior.

“This is a hugely disappointing decision which fails to take into account the higher rates of bullying and harassment Muslim students face,” CAIR-LA Civil Rights Attorney Patricia Shnell said. “It is very disheartening to see Muslim students left to defend themselves in schools where hostile, Islamophobic environments have been allowed to fester. This case is particularly upsetting because here even the CDE failed to acknowledge the power dynamics involved in discriminatory bullying.”

Malak was often accused by classmates of being a “terrorist,” blamed for the 9/11 tragedy, had ticking noises made at her, subjected to offensive gestures in class and called vulgar names but school officials did little to discourage the attacks. With the administration failing to step in, her schoolmates increased the verbal harassment, which she was subjected to in multiple classes and throughout campus.

The attacks began to seriously impact Malak’s behavior. She became severely depressed and withdrawn. Sometimes, she ate lunch in a restroom to avoid her tormentors.

Despite being made aware of the situation by the Hijaz family and CAIR-LA, the school failed to remedy the situation or stop the bullying.

“I cried on the phone emphasizing to the (vice principal) that Malak thought of committing suicide and he did not take it seriously,” said the girl’s mother,Samira Hijaz.

The bullying incidents began in October 2018 and continued for at least six months. Malak never mentioned the toxic situation to her mom. However, her younger sister, weary of watching the abuse, told their mom.

Initially, the school district said no discrimination or bullying occurred despite witnesses to the contrary. Upon appeal by CAIR-LA, the CDE ruled the district’s first report was insufficient, ordering the district to conduct additional follow-up. CAIR-LA also appealed the district’s second report, on the basis that it sought to blame Malak as a perpetrator of bullying, even though she was often verbally attacked by groups of students at once.

The CDE denied the second appeal, however, saying the incidents were “sufficiently investigated and responded to the appeal.”

It’s a total farce, the Hijaz family said.

“(Malak) couldn’t focus at school and I was seeing her grades dropping and I didn’t know the reason why,” Samira Hijaz said. “She didn’t have interest in doing things. It was rare to me because she’s an outgoing girl and she loves to dance and play and do all sorts of things and be loud at home. So, she started changing but I never really knew why.”

Surveys have shown repeatedly that Muslim students are more than twice as likely as other students to experience bullying. In a 2017 CAIR-CA report on school bullying, 53 percent of the 1,041 Muslim students between the ages of 11 and 18 surveyed said they were the victims of bullying or verbal insults. 

In addition, the report showed a significant increase in bullying and discrimination by teachers, administrators and other school officials from 20 percent in 2014 to 38 percent in 2016.

SEE: CAIR-CA Bullying Report

In October, CAIR will release its 2019 report on bullying and discrimination and the impact those actions have on Muslim students.

CAIR-LA is Southern California’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice and empower American Muslims.

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CONTACT: CAIR-LA Communications Coordinator Forrest Lee, 714-776-1847 or flee@cair.com


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