Fatima Abdo, 15, and her mother won't forget a bullying incident last spring at Fatima's high school in the Eastside Union High School District of San Jose-- but it didn't involve a fellow student. It was one of her teachers.
"Everyone was chatting and then my teacher just turns to me and she's like, 'If you don't stop talking, I'm going to rip that thing off your head.' And then the whole class was so silent and shocked. They all gasped," Fatima recalled.
The teacher was talking about Fatima's hijab, an Islamic head scarf. Fatima told her principal, who took quick action and called a meeting with the family and teachers. "She said she was joking around or whatever and I told her that that was something she should never joke about, especially such a sensitive thing,'" Fatima recalled.
A complaint was made to the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations which resulted in sensitivity training for the school's staff. The episode is part of a new report called "Growing in Faith" about bullying of Muslim students in California where 500 students were surveyed.
"What we discovered was 50 percent of the students, 1 out of every 2 students reported that they had been teased on account of being Muslim," Rachel Roberts told ABC7 News. The report also found 1 in 5 students were unsure about participating in classroom discussions on Islam. Others were unsure if teachers respected their religions.
"Initially hurt and pain, and then a bit of anger," said Fatima's mother Pearl, describing the emotions felt after the incident. "And then, we've got to do something about this, a plan of action."
Fatima's mother was happy with how her daughter's school handled their bullying incident. The council hopes all schools will look at the new report, which calls for more education and greater tolerance for Muslim students.