NSD responds to lawsuit threat

NSD says it will continue to support its Muslim students and families in light of FCDF lawsuit threat.

The Northshore School District (NSD) has stated it has not changed its stance regarding support toward its Muslim students.

NSD was recently issued a “cease and desist” letter filed by the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) for its supposed “Ramadan policy.” However, the district does not have a policy. A formal policy requires the district board to vote on it and enforce it throughout the district. District guidelines are not formally voted on or strictly enforced.

The FCDF is a pro bono legal team that focuses on First Amendment advocacy. As part of its mission, the organization 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 last month as well.

Prior to the May 10 “cease and desist” letter, NSD’s equity and diversity department issued guidelines 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.

Piedra said he believed the district’s “plan” went “above and beyond mere ‘accommodations.’”

“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.”

In Superintendent Dr. Michelle 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.

The revised guidelines were published May 16.

In response to the FCDF’s “cease and desist” letter, Reid said she has not changed her support for Muslim students and families as a result of the legal challenge.

“As a district, we take these topics seriously and will stay resolutely focused on supporting each of our students and their unique needs. There has been no district policy change and there is no policy change planned on this topic,” she said in a statement.

Reid said she will continue to work with the equity and diversity department to “work alongside the Muslim community to continue the work of supporting an inclusive and welcoming district.”

“Anything less would be a disservice to our students, staff and families. As with all evolving documents we use for communicating with our students and staff about matters of importance, I meet with members of the affected communities whenever we have questions arise, and together we work to craft a thoughtful message that maintains our intent and endeavors to find common ground,” she said in a statement. “I find that polarizing rhetoric rarely results in thoughtful productive outcomes for those most affected – in this case our students, staff and families.”

FCDF said will continue to monitor the district’s actions to ensure it complies with the Constitution.