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Sikh Americans Participate in Committee Hearing of Multicultural Education Bill at Ohio Statehouse

PUNJAB NEWS EXPRESS | December 27, 2023 12:58 AM

By Sameep Singh Gumtala

Ohio Sikhs advocate including Sikhi in the school curriculum
Columbus, Ohio: Advocates of a multicultural education house bill (HB171) gathered and testified during a hearing before the Ohio House Primary and Secondary Education Committee at the State Capitol in Columbus, Ohio. The bill, led by the Ohio Progressive Asian Women’s Leadership (OPAWL) organization, aims to include information about the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the social sciences curriculum. Notably, the current curriculum lacks representation of many minority communities, including Sikhs.
Key supporters, including OPAWL campaign organizer Arianna Kelawala, Lisa Factora-Borchers, her 8-year-old daughter Rosario Borchers, and two representatives from the Ohio Council for the Social Studies (OCSS), provided in-person testimony. Prior to the hearing, 70 supporters, including teacher Sanampreet Kaur Gill from Cleveland, submitted written testimonies, although only a handful had the opportunity to testify.
State Representative Mary Lightbody, the primary sponsor of HB171, a Democrat from Westerville expressed hope that its passage would integrate information about diverse Asian communities including Sikhism, into school curricula.
Before the hearing, speakers representing various organizations, including the Sikh Coalition, Ohio Education Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers, Council on Islamic American Relations, and State Rep. Mary Lightbody, voiced their support for the bill.
Sameep Singh Gumtala, representing the Sikh Coalition and Sikh community, thanked Rep. Mary Lightbody for sponsoring the bill. Gumtala emphasized the need for inclusion, pointing out that although Sikhs have been integral to the American fabric for over 125 years, yet public awareness of our faith, community, and contributions remains limited. The absence of Sikhism from classroom curricula has contributed to this knowledge gap, perpetuating stereotypes and, regrettably, fueling instances of hate violence and discrimination against Sikhs nationwide.
Gumtala highlighted the alarming rate of bullying faced by Sikh students, citing a Sikh Coalition report stating that 67% of Sikh students adhering to their articles of faith, such as turbans, experience bullying–more than double the national average. As a father of 2 children, Gumtala expressed concern about the high percentage of Sikh children facing bullying compared to other communities nationwide.
In conversation with Gumtala, his daughter Meher Kaur and teacher Sanamdeep Kaur, Rep. Mary Lightbody expressed hope that the bill’s passage would lead to the inclusion of information regarding Sikhs in the Ohio's school curriculum.
Before the first hearing in June, Sikhs from Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, and other cities gathered at the Ohio State House, responding to the Sikh Coalition's invitation. Supporters approached elected officials, urging them to vote in favor of HB 171. Additionally, state-wide gurdwaras initiated a signature campaign in support of the bill, emphasizing the importance of updating Ohio’s curriculum requirements.
Launched on May 16 by OPAWL, the campaign seeks to change the state’s K-12 model curriculum to include age and grade-appropriate instruction in the migration journeys, experiences and societal contributions of a range of communities in Ohio and the United States. This includes African Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Arabs, African and North African immigrants, refugees and asylees, Jews, Latin and Native Americans.

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