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1.4 Million New Jersey Students to Learn About Sikhs

The New Jersey State Board of Education (NJBOE) voted to adopt a statewide curriculum standard that includes Sikhism las...

NEW JERSEY: The New Jersey State Board of Education (NJBOE) voted to adopt a statewide curriculum standard that includes Sikhism last week.  The adoption also marks the first time the Coalition has worked with the community to persuade a state to adopt curriculum standards that include Sikhism. 

The Sikh Coalition commends the state Board of Education and urges all state Boards of Education to take similar measures.  This is an important first step towards ensuring that Sikh parents and students do not solely carry the burden of educating students on Sikhs and Sikh practices. 

Last week the NJBOE voted to adopt the following social studies Content Standard for all middle school students in the state:

"Compare and contrast the tenets of various world religions (e.g., Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Toaism), their patterns of expansion and response to the current challenges of globalization." 

In New Jersey, Content Standards provide the basis by which local school districts create curriculum and lesson plans for their students.  Local school districts also use the Content Standards as a guide to purchase the textbooks used in their schools. 

The adoption of this particular standard means that all New Jersey public school students must learn about Sikhism and its tenets in relation to other world faith traditions during middle school.

In addition to adding Sikhism to the Content Standards, the Board of Education has also promised that Sikh issues will be added to Classroom Application Documents (CADs).  CADs are supplemental guides that teachers use to provide content to the curriculum standards.  The Sikh Coalition, Sikh Research Institute, New Jersey Sikh community members, and the Board of Education will work together to develop these CADs.  The CADs will address the issues of Sikh immigration to America, discrimination in the workforce and military, post 9/11 backlash on Sikhs, bullying issues as they relate to Sikh students, and how the media perpetuates stereotyping and how that affects Sikhs.

The journey to adoption was a long and arduous process. On December 9, 2003, the Sikh Coalition in partnership with eight New Jersey Gurdwaras released a detailed New Jersey Civil Rights Agenda during a press conference at the State Capitol Building in Trenton, New Jersey.  The press conference specifically discussed bullying issues facing Sikh children and called on the NJBOE to ensure "all school children in New Jersey… receive education on Sikhs." 

Since then the Coalition has worked with a dedicated core of community activists in New Jersey to consistently raise the issue of education on Sikhs in New Jersey in over a dozen meetings with elected and government officials. These activists include but are not limited to Gurparkash Singh, Jasjit Singh, Sutinder Singh Dhanjal (member of the New Jersey Governor's Ethnic Advisory Commission), Harvinder Singh Wasson, and Rajdeep Kaur.    In addition, scores of Sikhs from throughout New Jersey, and in particular the sangats of the Gurudwaras in Bridgewater and Lawrenceville, wrote letters to the Department of Education requesting that information on Sikhs be included in the curriculum. In total, community members wrote 245 individual letters to the Department requesting action.

During the course of activism on this issue, community activists and the Coalition were also able to secure additional benefits and protections for Sikh children in New Jersey. 

In September 2006, before the start of the school year, Education Commissioner Lucille Davy issued a memorandum to every school principal in New Jersey requesting that they take measures to protect Sikh students from bias and harassment in schools. 

In addition, New Jersey agreed to allow 8 Sikh religious days to be placed on the school calendar giving Sikh students the option of taking those days off without being charged with an unexcused absence. 

The Coalition would like to especially thank New Jersey Assembly Member Updendra Chivukula.  Assemblyman Chivukula arranged for gatherings with New Jersey's Governor, Attorney General, and most importantly New Jersey's Education Commissioner that were instrumental to the success of this project.  In addition, the Coalition would like to thank Hoboken Councilman Ravi Singh Bhalla.  The Councilman worked with State Senator Brian Stack and Assembly Member Ruben Ramos to write letters to the Department of Education in support of including information on Sikhs in the curriculum. 

Finally, the Sikh Coalition would like to thank the Department of Education Commissioner Lucille Davy.  Commissioner Davy has always been a champion in ensuring that New Jersey school children have the knowledge necessary to be competitive in an increasingly global society.  The Coalition thanks her for her leadership.

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