Religion Equity

IDRA EAC-South Technical Assistance

The IDRA EAC-South’s capacity-building technical assistance can help state and local education agencies in addressing religious discrimination. These issues may be self-identified or identified through an active school desegregation court order, an Office for Civil Rights resolution, or an investigation by a federal or state civil rights enforcement agency.

Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects students from discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all students are equally protected from discrimination based on any of the aforementioned identities, including discrimination or harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived:

  • shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, or
  • citizenship or residency in a country with a dominant religion or distinct religious identity.

How religious discrimination may manifest in schools
  • Allowing students to be subjected to mixed ethnic and religious slurs.
  • Harassing students because of their perceived religion.
  • Restricting certain religious attire or religious, personal grooming.
  • Accommodating certain religious practices but not others.
Examples of technical assistance and training available

The IDRA EAC-South is available to provide tailored technical assistance and training to state and local education agencies. Examples of the support available include:

  • Assessments of school climate
  • Data analyses of relevant metrics related to religious discrimination and harassment
  • Administrator and teacher training on IDRA’s Equity Principles
  • Reviewing and revising local policies to identify and remove systemic barriers
  • Developing targeted train-the-trainer plans for educators and administrators
  • Modifying and/or creating equitable bullying and harassment policies
  • Establishing a local monitoring plan to ensure fidelity of implementation

See our resource page for tools on educational equity and religion. Highlights are below.

Podcast: Tools for Schools Dealing with Bullying – Podcast Episode 222

Classnotes Podcast (April 19, 2022). Bullying and harassment undermines students’ abilities to learn and hinders the establishment of safe spaces in schools. The IDRA EAC-South‘s Interrupting Bullying & Harassment in Schools online toolkit gives teachers and school leaders tools that to prevent bullying and harassment by fostering a positive school climate.

In this episode, Dr. Paula Johnson, Aurelio Montemayor, M.Ed., and Michelle Vega give an overview of the toolkit while discussing specific strategies from the perspective of teachers and a parent whose son was bullied. Dr. Paula Johnson is an IDRA senior education associate and director the IDRA EAC-South. Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is IDRA’s family engagement coordinator and directs IDRA Education CAFE work. Michelle Martínez Vega is IDRA’s chief technology strategist.

Listen podcast.

Article: Four Leverage Points for Culturally Sustaining Practices

• By Paula Johnson, Ph.D., and Hector Bojorquez • IDRA Newsletter • April 2022 •In our work, particularly through the IDRA EAC-South, IDRA has framed current research around culturally sustaining education into four quadrants that represent practices at the following critical levels: (1) culturally sustaining schools, (2) culturally sustaining leadership, (3) culturally sustaining educators, and (4) culturally sustaining pedagogy.

These four leverage points represent components of the educational ecosystem that can be transformed by culturally sustaining practices to better serve marginalized students of color. Defining what culturally sustaining practices look like in these four levels also aids in identifying data points, situating student outcomes through an equity lens, identifying capacity building needs, and creating spaces for continuous community input and support. Simply, framing leverage points as critical levels gives educational stakeholders a way to quantify steps for successfully implementing culturally sustaining practices.

See article.

Article: Let the Youth Speak for Themselves – Fostering Substantive Conversations and Advocacy in the Classroom

• Dr. Paula Johnson • IDRA Newsletter • March 2022 •Our goal as educators, parents and community members is to provide the best for the next generation. We make decisions with the best intentions. From conception on, there are a million choices that influence a student’s life. Some are minor. Some are huge. Take a moment to consider how many of them are informed by the students themselves. Our youth are telling us what they want and what they need. It is time that we listen.

See article.

Article: Families Celebrate Excellent Biliteracy Programs

• Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. Alejandra Salazar Gonzalez • IDRA Newsletter • March 2022 •While biliteracy enhances students’ career options for a stable economic future in an increasingly globalized economy, its value extends far beyond material and economic benefits. Self-concept, self-value and family connections blossom when a student’s home language and culture are maintained in tandem with English fluency and literacy. When schools support students to graduate fully biliterate, they build individual student self-worth, familial connections and economic utility.

See article.

Article: An Introduction to Culturally Sustaining Practices in the Classroom

• Dr. Sulema Carreón-Sánchez • IDRA Newsletter • March 2022 •Culturally sustaining instruction is a research-based approach that links students’ cultures, languages and life experiences within the classroom environment. These connections help students access rigorous curriculum and develop higher-level academic skills.

When using culturally sustaining practices, educators deliberately create a classroom environment that acknowledges all students, connecting cultural experiences within daily instruction, embracing students’ native language and their families as assets to learning at school and home, and communicating clear high expectations for all students.

See article. 

Article: Playing Defense is Not Enough – Let’s Recommit to a Vision of Public Schools that Values Every Child, Every Educator, Every Community

• Michelle Castillo, Ed.M. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2022 •Since January 2021, we have seen at least 37 states introduce laws that seek to ban “divisive” content in classrooms and school libraries (Schwartz, 2022). Legislation to censor classroom learning has evolved into a call for “parents’ rights” and “curriculum transparency,” with some states now targeting words like diversityequity and inclusion (Schwartz & Pendharkar, 2022). While we are busy playing defense, we must not lose sight of the long game and articulate clearly a vision for public education that values every single student.

See article.

Article: Parents Urge Schools to Enrich, Not Exclude

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2022 •News stories in recent months have shown parents shouting at school board meetings angry about topics and materials used in classrooms or about something they heard through the grapevine (aka social media) about a particular teacher or principal. The volume of these media stories and the addictive videos shared online give the impression that these voices represent the majority. But they do not.

See article.

Podcast: Dress Codes and Religion Equity

There may forever be a tension between what teenagers want to wear to school and what school officials deem is appropriate. School dress codes may serve a purpose, but they cannot prevent a student from expressing religious beliefs.

In this episode, we look at what the law and courts have said about religion equity in the context of dress codes and what schools should be doing to avoid infringing on students’ rights.

We also hear from a former student who is Muslim on her experiences in school. For this discussion, Phoebe Schlanger, the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium senior publications editor, and Nada Mousa, a research and program assistant at MAEC, join David Hinojosa, J.D., director of the federally-funded IDRA EAC-South, which provides technical assistance and training to build capacity of local educators to serve their diverse student populations.

Hear podcast

Go to the podcast webpage to listen to Dress Codes and Religion Equity – Classnotes Podcast 186.

Article: Religion Equity in Schools – Protecting Students and Their Civil Rights

Recently, there has been a rise in the number of Muslim and Sikh students who face bullying and harassment at school due to their religious affiliation or expression. In this article, Paula N. Johnson focuses on religious diversity as a protected civil right, how schools can foster more inclusive learning environments and recommendations for educators.

Many times, students can be targeted because of visible symbols they wear in accordance with their religious beliefs. To alleviate these issues and protect all students, we must work to prepare teachers and help students appreciate, respect, understand and learn from students of other cultures.

Read article

Paula N. Johnson focuses on religious diversity as a protected civil right, how schools can foster more inclusive learning environments, and recommendations for educators.

Read article: Religion Equity in Schools – Protecting Students and Their Civil Rights, by Paula N. Johnson, Ph.D., IDRA Newsletter, August 2018

Article: Religion Equity and School Dress Codes

This article explores the history of school dress codes and students’ religious expression. The role of religious activities observed and practiced in districts and public schools has been one of the most unclear, misinterpreted and misunderstood civil rights issues.

All educational settings should provide a welcoming, nurturing and educational setting for students, families and communities regardless of faith or belief. To achieve this end, Sulema Carreón-Sánchez and Phoebe Schlanger provide tips and resources for schools, educators or parents seeking strategies and information about religion equity, bullying and inclusive dress codes.

Read article

Sulema Carreón-Sánchez and Phoebe Schlanger provide tips and resources for schools, educators or parents seeking strategies and information about religion equity, bullying and inclusive dress codes.

Read article: Religion Equity and School Dress Codes, by Sulema Carreón-Sánchez, Ph.D., and Phoebe Schlanger, IDRA Newsletter, August 2018

Resources on Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying in Schools

As the use of social media and cell phones continues to expand and connect students more readily in important ways, so too does the rising threat of cyberbullying. Whether it concerns students “trolling” other students on Twitter because of their perceived gender, sending continuous text messages harassing a student because of their race, or posting repeated disparaging pictures implicating a student’s religion or immigration status on Instagram, cyberbullying comes in many forms.

See Resource List

Article: Relational Youth Violence – Protecting Muslim Youth in School

School-age children in the United States are growing up in an environment that is increasingly hostile toward the Muslim community. Analyzing the most recent FBI data available, the Pew Research Center (2016) finds that hate crimes against Muslims in 2015 had risen to similar levels as those committed shortly after 9/11, which was a 67 percent increase in incidents from the previous year. Although 2016 numbers from the FBI will not be available until late this year, it is unlikely that this number will have decreased.

Read article

Sofía Bahena outlines challenges facing American Muslim students and strategies for schools.

Read article: Relational Youth Violence – Protecting Muslim Youth in School, by Sofía Bahena, Ed.D., IDRA Newsletter, February 2017

Know Your Rights: Title VI and Religion Fact Sheet

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces federal civil rights laws that prohibit schools, colleges, and universities from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age. These laws protect students who are or are perceived to be members of a religious group, such as Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs, from discrimination on any of the bases described above.

See factsheet

See factsheet by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights: Know Your Rights: Title VI and Religion Fact Sheet, January 2017

Article: Three Approaches for Dismantling Discriminatory Discipline in Schools

by Paula N. Johnson, Ph.D., & José A. Velázquez, M.Ed., March 2019

In recent years, schools across the nation have moved toward resolving behavior issues that do not take the child out of the classroom – focusing on a “whole child” approach to student learning and success built on relationships and community.

The IDRA EAC- South has a three-pronged approach to addressing disparities in school discipline. First, technical assistance builds capacity to increase positive school climates through research-based services; second, revising discriminatory school discipline practices better aligns schools with the district’s tiers of support for behavior; and third, building capacity for effective family and parent engagement to improve relationships between all stakeholders.

As a result, districts we’ve worked with across the IDRA EAC- South region report lower rates of suspension and expulsion each year.

See article

Article: Institutionalized Discrimination… Does it Exist in Your School

by David Hinojosa, J.D., April 2018

This article addresses how schools can identify institutionalized discrimination – discriminatory practices that manifest through behaviors, actions and policies of public institutions that target or exclude based on race, sex, gender, national origin, religion and disability, among others. This kind of discrimination can be difficult to stop because it often has a basis in patterns and practices from historical norms. David Hinojosa pinpoints three critical areas – expectations, school funding and curriculum – as starting points for schools to identify and correct their own discriminatory policies and practices.

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Article: Addressing “Ecological Shock” – Supporting Refugee Students in School

by Kristin Grayson, Ph.D., and Hannah Sung, March 2018

Dr. Kristin Grayson and Hanna Sung address in this article how schools can support refugee students through building connections and fostering understanding. Educators and school stakeholders must understand the effects of trauma and the unique aspects that refugee students bring to the classroom.

Schools can pro-actively create a welcoming and positive learning environment to help these students cope with stress and fear by fostering community – bringing students in fully as members of their schools rather than isolating them. Building this positive learning environment requires a commitment to equity.

See article