(New York, New York) June 6, 2008 - In a dramatic scene outside New York City Department of Education headquarters, hate crime victim Jagmohan Singh Premi, City Council Member John Liu, and the Sikh Coalition confronted the city educators on their failure to protect Sikh children from bias-based harassment. All major media outlets in New York covered the event, which endured the added drama of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein making an unexpected appearance to apologize to Jagmohan.
Sikh Coalition members arrived at the Department of Education at noon this past Friday holding signs that said "Fed Up." The frustration of community members was readily apparent as Jagmohan recounted the school's failure to adequately address his pleas for help and as the Coalition recounted the Department's failure to address conditions at Richmond Hill High.
Congressman Gregory Meeks, State Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry, Council Member John Liu, and Council Member Letitia James also spoke in support of the Sikh community and its demands.
"Fed up. That is the only way I can describe how we feel," saidAmardeep Singh, Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition. "How many more meetings is it going to take before our children are safe? How many more press conferences? How many more calls from distressed Sikh parents because the schools can't do their job? How many more reports by the Sikh Coalition like 'Hatred in the Hallways'? How many? I personally handed the Commissioner a folder in July 2007 that listed Richmond Hill High School as a 'problem school' for Sikh children. What action was taken? It clearly was not enough to spare Jagmohan a school year of torment. The Department needs to give the Sikh community a plan to protect the Sikh children from bias in schools and we need that plan now."
On July 16, 2007, the Coalition directly raised the issue of anti-Sikh harassment at Richmond Hill High School at a meeting with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in materials submitted to the Chancellor and his staff at that meeting. In April 2008, the Sikh Coalition discussed Richmond Hill High School in its report "Making Our Voices Heard: A Civil Rights Agenda for New York City Sikhs." The Coalition found that over half of all Sikh students at Richmond Hill High who responded to our survey reported being harassed at school.
Schools Chancellor's Sudden Appearance, Big Announcement, and Relief for Jagmohan
During the press conference, City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein requested that he be able to meet Jagmohan Singh. While declining a public meeting in front of cameras, Jagmohan, the Coalition, and Council Member John Liu did meet privately with Chancellor Klein for 5 minutes.
The Chancellor personally expressed his regret for the attack to Jagmohan and pledged to ensure he is safe in school. Since then, Department of Education staff has been in daily contact with Coalition staff to address both Jagmohan's safety needs and to ensure he is placed in a school that better addresses his learning needs. Jagmohan's parents are genuinely happy with the Department's movement on these concerns.
The Schools Chancellor's Big Announcement
This past Friday, in response to the attack on Jagmohan Singh, School's Chancellor Joel Klein announced:
"I recently ordered the drafting of a new Chancellor's regulation that incorporates recommendations from the Sikh Coalition… As part of this effort, we are also expanding our incident reporting system to comprehensively track bias-related incidents in our schools beginning in September."
Position of the Sikh Coalition on the Chancellor's Announcement
The Sikh Coalition welcomes the Chancellor's announcement. We hope that a Chancellor's regulation will positively impact the lives of the over 1.1 million children in the New York City public school system by institutionalizing a process to address bias in school that affects any child.
The Sikh Coalition and the Sikh community take joy in playing a small role in one day making this proposed regulation a reality for all New Yorkers. Before this happens, however, we request an opportunity to more substantively play a role in the regulation's creation. Public review of regulations before they are implemented is a critical part of the rule-making progress. The Sikh Coalition urges the Department to make its regulatory plan public for review, comment, and input.
With the press waiting for the conclusion of his meeting with Jagmohan, Chancellor Klein then appeared outside Department headquarters to announce that he "recently ordered the drafting of a new Chancellor's regulation that incorporates recommendations from the Sikh Coalition." The Chancellor's also said that the Department will:
"distribute an anti-bias brochure to every middle and high school student in the City that defines harassment, advises students of their rights, and outlines appropriate actions in response to acts of harassment. As part of this effort, we are also expanding our incident reporting system to comprehensively track bias-related incidents in our schools beginning in September."
The Coalition will continue to work to ensure justice for Jagmohan Singh, appropriate punishment for his attacker, and for systematic changes in the way the Department of Education addresses issues of bias in schools, particularly with regard to Sikh children.
As always, the Coalition encourages all Sikhs, especially our precious children, to fearlessly practice their faith and stand up for their rights. You are children of the Khalsa. We believe in your ability to do anything you want to do while maintaining our way of life.
Raj Karega Khalsa! The Sikh Coalition
Past Sikh Coalition Advisories on Bias in New York City Schools
Another Sikh Boy Suffers Hate Assault in School, June 2008
Coalition Releases Civil Rights Report and Civil Rights Agenda, April 2008
Our Children Face Challenges, April 2008
Coalition Launches Know Your Rights Series. February 2008
Coalition Launches Groundbreaking Anti-Bullying Website for Sikh Kids , February 2008
New York Times Publishes Sikh Coalition Editorial on Education, September 2007
Schools Chancellor Responds to Sikh Concerns, July 2007
Coalition Releases Hatred in the Hallways: A Preliminary Report on Bias Against Sikh Students in New York City Public Schools, June 2007
Sikh Boy's Hair Forcibly Cut in Hate Attack in Queens, May 2007