BOTHELL — The Northshore School District is insisting it has not changed its stance toward supporting Muslim students during their holy month, despite a legal challenge from a First Amendment advocacy group based in California.
The district was recently sent a “cease and desist” letter by the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, which contested what it described as Northshore’s “Ramadan policy.” In response to a newspaper story published a week ago, the district said it doesn’t have an official policy. That would have required a Northshore School Board vote and enforcement throughout the district.
Rather, the district said, it has guidelines related to Ramadan that are not formally voted on or strictly enforced.
Northshore’s guidelines were brought to the attention of the defense fund and have been revised.
In response to the group’s “cease and desist” letter, Northshore schools Superintendent Michelle Reid said the district’s values have not wavered 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,” Reid said in a statement. “There has been no district policy change and there is no policy change planned on this topic.”
The district serves a diverse and fast-growing community on both sides of the Snohomish-King county line, including the areas around Bothell, Kenmore, Maltby and Woodinville.
Prior to the May 10 warning letter from the defense fund, the district’s equity and diversity department issued the guidelines to school officials to make sure “students have the right accommodations and support from teachers and their peers.”
The original guidelines included:
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.”
According to the defense fund, an anonymous Northshore 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, the defense fund’s executive director, said in a statement.
Revised guidelines were issued May 16.
In the “cease and desist” letter to Northshore, the organization demanded that the district “rescind the ‘Ramadan Policy’;” ensure non-Muslim students of faith are treated equally under the law; review 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.”
Piedra said he believed the district’s “plan” went “above and beyond mere ‘accommodations.’”
In the school superintendent’s May 17 “Thursday Thoughts” district blog, Reid wrote: “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 and the equity and diversity department worked together to issue a revised letter that details how the district is supporting its Muslim students.
Reid said the equity and diversity department will “work alongside the Muslim community to continue the work of supporting an inclusive and welcoming district.”
The defense fund said it will continue to monitor the district’s actions to ensure it complies with the Constitution.
This story originally appeared in the Bothell-Kenmore Reporter, a sibling paper to the Herald.