I have discussed holidays a few times on this blog, mostly in relation to how our American holidays and celebrations can have negative effects on non-practicing students, families, and community members. This time, things are a little different.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on Monday, May 6th of this year. That means that practicing students around the world have been fasting from food during the day (if they choose) and fasting from music, song, and dance (also a choice which is up to the family). From my own observations and stories from across the country, I can see that our school systems were ill prepared for this holiday. Leadership, at many levels, failed to prepare spaces for fasting students to go during lunch as an alternate to sitting in the lunchroom. Prayer spaces, which normally facilitate a small number of students, suddenly became too small for students who observe a stricter schedule during the holy month. Worst yet, Eid al-Fitr, commonly known as Eid, falls on finals for many schools and universities, according to the Cornell Daily Sun.
Now, practicing students will either need to take their finals early, or risk their grades by waking up hours earlier than usual for both prayer and mealtime and being hungry and tired during what is considered the most important test of the year.
This is a failure on many levels. In fact, it may even be a failure by law. According to the National School Board Association’s publication on legal rights and responsibilities of school districts regarding religion, the establishment clause of the first amendment can be invoked:
“when a person claims the law burdens or makes observing his or her religion more difficult.”
By asking that the students self report and advocate, especially students who are too young to do so effectively and parents who are non-native English speakers, undue burden is being placed on students and families.
So, what could have been done? A few things:
- Buy a calendar – It’s not difficult to plan ahead, especially in places with greater populations of students practicing other religions. Students and Families are not asking for days, but finals could have easily been shifted.
- Have a plan – Make sure all staff are aware of the upcoming holidays of all students and give opportunities to learn more about them.
- Don’t make excuses – It’s lazy. We all need to get better. Avoiding the recognition of mistakes doesn’t offer any opportunities for growth nor does it help foster relationships.
If we can take a “winter” break every year and get the Friday before Easter off, then the least we can do is plan ahead.