The Northshore School District (NSD) has been issued a “cease and desist” letter by the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF).
The FCDF is a pro bono legal team that focuses on First Amendment advocacy. As part of its mission, the team works to educate school administrators, families and the local community about religion in public schools.
NSD is the second Seattle-area school district to be threatened with a lawsuit regarding a Ramadan policy. Dieringer School District, serving Lake Tapps, received a “cease and desist” letter from the FCDF earlier this month for allegedly endorsing Islam and following a script by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that urges schools to make special accommodations for Muslim students.
The FCDF issued NSD, its superintendent, Dr. Michelle Reid, and school board a “cease and desist” letter on May 10. The letter demanded the district shut down what the FCDF called NSD’s “Ramadan policy.”
Prior to the May 10 letter, NSD’s Equity and Diversity department issued guidelines — not a policy — to school officials to make sure “students have the right accommodations and support from teachers and their peers.”
The original guidelines included the following:Planning in advance with Muslim students to allow them to “quietly slip away” for prayer to “avoid calling unwanted attention to them.”
“When planning school activities and events, think about how it will impact practicing Muslim students” by asking “Will they feel left out?” and “Will they feel pressured to break their fast before sunset or Iftar (breaking of fast)?”
“A brief mention of Ramadan or a lesson on it may promote the feeling of inclusivity” because “[m]any Muslim students may feel embarrassed to be specially accommodated.”
Create “comfortable” safe spaces for Muslim students with “books, magazines and other things to keep students busy.”
“Fitness and cardio assessments could be done prior to the beginning of Ramadan,” or allow Muslim students “provide a support role for coach/teacher while being responsible for content learning.” “Privately offer information about nutritional adaptations” to Muslim students while they fast during the day.
According to the FCDF, an anonymous NSD faculty member contacted them and said the district’s “pro-Islam ‘diversity’ mandates are being forced on teachers.”
“The school district’s so-called Ramadan ‘accommodations’ run roughshod over the First Amendment and are a blatant insult to students of other faiths,” Daniel Piedra, FCDF’s executive director, said in a statement. “Under the mantle of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion,’ school officials have exalted Islam as the state-sponsored religion. Teachers and parents are outraged, and they should be.”
In the FCDF’s “cease and desist” letter to NSD, they demanded the district to:
Rescind the ‘Ramadan Policy;’
Restore the rights of non-Muslim students of faith to be treated equally under the law;
Undertake a review of all instances in which district officials enforced the Ramadan policy; and
Inform staff and parents of the district’s unlawful actions and your efforts to remedy them
“Please notify us within five business days in writing regarding whether you agree to these demands. If we do not receive a response by then, we may be forced to take legal action, by which we will seek injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees,” the letter said.
In Reid’s May 17 “Thursday Thoughts” district blog, she said NSD is “committed to each student feeling safe as a responsible and persistent learner.”
“While our practicing Muslim students move through the month of Ramadan, it is possible that they partake in no food or drink during school and it is important that we take appropriate measures to support their learning,” she said.
She said she and the Equity and Diversity department worked together to issue a revised letter that details how the district is supporting its Muslim students.
“There are also ideas for providing additional support, and links to resources for a greater understanding of Ramadan,” she said.
In the revised letter to school officials, the district issued the following:
“When planning school activities and events, think about how it will impact practicing Muslim students” by asking “Will they feel left out?” and “Will they feel pressured to break their fast before sunset or Iftar (breaking of fast)?”;
Create special “safe spaces” for Muslim students;
Plan with Muslim students to allow them to “quietly slip away” for prayer to “avoid calling unwanted attention to them”;
“Privately offer information about nutritional adaptations” while Muslim students fast;
During class, give “[a] brief mention of Ramadan or a lesson on it [to] promote the feeling of inclusivity” because “[m]any Muslim students may feel embarrassed to be specially accommodated”;
“Privately ask Muslim students if they would like accommodations”; and
“If you are aware of practicing Muslim students in your school and are still unsure about how to support them during Ramadan, don’t hesitate to ask them privately what they need.”
The district suggested a neutralized “comfortable space for fasting students,” but informed teachers it’s up to the student whether they choose to go there or not.
“Muslim students no doubt have a right to receive appropriate religious accommodations,” Piedra said. “But Northshore’s plan went above and beyond mere ‘accommodations’; it exalted Islam as the privileged religion in the school district. It is unfortunate it took a threat to sue for district officials to come to their senses.”
FCDF said it will continue to monitor the district’s actions to ensure it complies with the Constitution. It is also awaiting the production of documents from a public record request made two weeks ago. According to district officials, the records will be produced by June 21.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported on Northshore School District’s guidelines regarding students observing Ramadan and the district’s response to possible legal action. The district issued guidelines for faculty and staff on Ramadan and did not rescind support of continued student education. For an updated story, click here.