Oklahoma to add Sikhism to updated education standards

Oklahoma is the ninth state in the country to include Sikhism in its education standards, according to the Sikh Coalition.
Image: Sikh Day Parade
Participants march down Madison Avenue during the Sikh Day Parade, celebrating the Sikh holiday of Vaisakhi, in New York on April 27, 2019.Mary Altaffer / AP file

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By Agnes Constante

Oklahoma is joining a growing list of states that will include Sikhism in its social studies standards.

The announcement, made Thursday after Oklahoma's State Board of Education released its new standards, is a victory for advocates who have been campaigning to raise awareness in the United States about the world's fifth largest religion.

“The accurate inclusion of Sikhism in more state standards across America is part of the Sikh Coalition’s efforts to ensure that all children feel represented, included and safe when they go to school,” said Pritpal Kaur, education director of the Sikh Coalition, a group that advocated for the move.

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The coalition requested for the inclusion of Sikhism in Oklahoma's education standards in November 2018. In February, the State Board of Education unanimously voted to approve the new standards, which will be rolled out in the 2019-20 school year and be fully implemented in the 2020-21 school year, a spokesperson for the board told NBC News in an email.

Oklahoma's new standards make it the ninth state in the country that includes Sikhism in its education standards, according to the coalition. It joins Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Texas.

The Sikh Coalition is currently campaigning for the inclusion of Sikhism in Michigan's education standards.

An estimated 500,000 Sikhs live in the U.S., a figure based on the number of gurdwaras or Sikh houses of worship in the country, the coalition said in 2017.

A 2014 report by the group found that more than 50 percent of Sikh students surveyed reported being bullied in school. Some respondents said they believed they were bullied because of their religion and race, and because other students thought they looked like terrorists. Requiring the inclusion of accurate information on Sikhs and Sikh Americans in school curricula was one recommendation the report made to address the issue.

"Our family has lived in Oklahoma for many years, and our youngest son is still studying in the public school system,” Gurcharan Singh, who supports the new standards, said in a statement. “These new standards will go a long way in ensuring all Sikh children feel represented and included in the classroom."

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CORRECTION (May 24, 2019, 2:32 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the day when Oklahoma's State Board of Education publicly posted its new standards. It posted the standards Thursday, not last week.