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City leaders hail curriculum for combating Islamophobia in SF schools

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District Attorney George Gascon speaks at a news conference Thursday for the launch of the Know Your Classmates program at Everett Middle School. (Dan Chambers/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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City leaders announced Thursday a new curriculum to combat Islamophobia among middle school students in San Francisco.

The curriculum, called Know Your Classmates, is meant to encourage an open conversation between ethnically and culturally diverse students to end social isolation and bullying.

Standing on the steps outside Everett Middle School on Church Street, Mayor Ed Lee, District Attorney George Gascon and Board of Education President Matt Haney praised the initiative for starting a dialogue around diversity.

“We want our students to learn about each other,” said Haney, who is running for re-election to the school board in November. “We want them to learn about different cultures. We want them to share our cultures. It’s a critical and essential part of our schools.”

So far, Presidio Middle School is the only campus in the San Francisco Unified School District to enroll in the month-long program, which culminates Oct. 21, according to the program’s website.

“We have the opportunity to understand each other’s backgrounds,” Lee said. “This is the beauty of San Francisco society.”

According to Maha Elgenaidi of the Islamic Networks Group, one of two nonprofits that created the curriculum for schools nationwide, Islamophobia is increasing in the nation. A majority of Americans are unsure of Muslims or have negative views of Islam, she said.

“This is going to have an impact on the school environment,” said Elgenaidi. “Teachers, administrators, school staff are susceptible to the same information that other Americans are too about this religion.”

Lee noted that the curriculum comes alongside new implicit bias training for all city workers — from firefighters, to police, to street sweepers.

Gascon said that young people and communities should be protected regardless of their religious background.

“Unfortunately by the time we have to prosecute someone, there are victims,” Gascon said. “We want to come together to send a very clear message that social isolation and bullying will not be accepted in our school district.”

Laura Talmus, founder of Beyond Differences, the other co-sponsor of the project, said the curriculum is meant for small group instruction and includes five lesson plans for teachers.

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