A school district in New York State’s Saratoga County has announced it will set aside rooms in which its Muslim students can pray during the month of Ramadan.
Shenendehowa High School Principal Donald Flynt sent a letter home to parents which noted the move is to allow the students “to meet their religious obligations during school hours.”
“Prayer occurs on a daily basis for practicing Muslims,” the letter states, as reported by WRGB. “This can be challenging in today’s modern public high school. In an attempt to make reasonable accommodations for students and employees to meet their personal religious obligations, room 65 in High School West and room 109 in High School East have been set aside so students can incorporate this important aspect of their religion into their daily activities while at school.”
A district spokesmouth said officials made the decision after meeting with the leader of a local mosque “in an attempt to improve the school’s cultural proficiency.”
[The spokesperson] says the school can’t refuse a student’s request to leave class for required prayer, and says the space allows Muslim students to return to class quickly after praying.
The school spokesperson says the school would honor a request like this for any religion. …
We went to our legal analyst Paul DerOhannesian and asked about the legal implications of prayer in schools.
He says the Supreme Court has ruled on it, and says it doesn’t appear the school has broken any laws.
“There have been cases before where the Supreme Court has said that a school should make its facilities available to all groups including religious groups, if it makes it available to others for certain activities, for example the Boy Scouts,” DerOhannesian said.
DerOhannesian says schools can make facilities available as long as they offer equal access, and don’t promote a religion or require students be involved in a religious activity or practice.
DerOhannesian is correct; however it’s my understanding that “equal access” provisions apply to after normal (school) operating hours. A pastor could not come in, for example, and utilize a classroom for several of his flock during period 2 in the middle of the school day. He could, however, do so at seven o’clock p.m. that evening (if he had filled out the typically paperwork in advance, natch).
In addition, the letter sent home makes points out that no school personnel will be involved in the Muslim students’ prayers (an important point to emphasize), but this means that either the children will be alone in the rooms, or (an adult) member of the community will be present.
This situation presents its own set of legal hassles.
Teachers and administrators are repeatedly told never to leave a class unattended, nor send a student to sit in the hall, for example, as a “time out.” Teachers are (legally) responsible for their charges during the time (the kids) are scheduled to be in their presence (absences notwithstanding).
A member of the community would have to be thoroughly vetted (criminal background check, etc.), but again, he/she would be in the building during normal hours for an explicit religious purpose.
Read the full story, which includes the full district letter.
h/t to EAGNews.org