A Conversation on Education Reform with U.S. Department of Education

Peter Groff and ING President Maha Elgenaidi

In partnership with the U.S Dept of Education and the White House Office of Public Engagement, ING (Islamic Networks Group) convened a meeting on Monday, April 26th at the Muslim Community Association Center in Santa Clara, the first mosque in the country to host such a forum.

The meeting was attended by more than 40 representatives of 30 major local Muslim and Arab organizations that are involved in advocacy, youth, interfaith or educational issues as well as representatives from the Sikh Coalition and the Asian Law Caucus.

Speakers and conversation leaders at the roundtable discussion included Peter Groff, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for the U.S. Dept of Education; Paul Monteiro, President Obama’s Religious Liaison and Assistant Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement; and Kevin Jennings, Director of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools of the U.S. Dept Of Education.

President Mohammed Nadeem and Paul Monteiro

The purpose for the meeting was to solicit feedback and input from local community and faith leaders on the Obama administration’s education agenda. The goal was not only to hear about the concerns that Muslim, Arab and Sikh students may have regarding education, bullying, and discrimination but also the best way the groups working to address these issues can be connected with opportunities and programs in the administration.

Peter, Kevin, and Paul also took part in two additional meetings at ING’s office in the evening, the first with about 20 Muslim and Sikh students to hear about their experiences of harassment in school, and subsequently with a group of about 20 parents and advocates addressing the same topics. Both student and parent groups also expressed possible solutions to the issues of discrimination and harassment in school, and strategies for moving forward. As one Muslim mother expressed, “I brought up my kids to be good citizens and to serve our country. But if they’re not accepted by our society, then how can they contribute.”

Parents meeting at ING office with Kevin Jennings (5th from right)

Both the conveners and participants were highly pleased with the dialogue and discussion. The team from Washington will be summarizing their findings and presenting them to the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Assistant Secretary Kevin Jennings and the Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships expressed a commitment to finding solutions and relief for students of Muslim, Arab and Sikh backgrounds.

ING and Bay Area Muslim, Arab and Sikh communities are appreciative of the new interest expressed by the Obama administration in addressing this long-standing problem and the opportunity to interface with administration representatives.