Saratoga County high school setting aside classrooms for Muslim prayer
CLIFTON PARK, NY (WRGB) - The largest school district in Saratoga County says it will allow Muslim students to pray in rooms in at its’ high school.
The Shenendehowa High School Principal says classrooms are being set aside so Muslim students can pray during Ramadan.
Since then, we’ve heard from parents who are against the move.
One parent sent us a letter explaining her concerns saying:
“Since prayer for other religions was removed from school years ago, I feel as Shen has crossed the line on allowing this on campus.”
Some folks we talked to in Clifton Park agreed, like David Chapleau.
“You just can’t bring religion into a public institution where were really trying to teach kids to the idea of opening their critical faculties,” Chapleau said.
The woman’s outcry is in response to an email from the Shenendehowa High School Principal to students and parents. It addresses the month of Ramadan, a time of fasting and prayer for Muslims. It says, in part:
“Prayer occurs on a daily basis for practicing Muslims. 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.”
The letter explains two classrooms will be set aside for students to meet their religious obligations during school hours.
A school spokesperson says the decision was made after the high school principal met with the leader of a local mosque in an attempt to improve the school's cultural proficiency. She 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.
Clifton Park resident Kevin Lynch said he doesn’t have an issue with the school’s decision.
“If that’s what they’re asking for and they’re allowed to have it I don’t see a problem with that,” Lynch said.
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.
This message is from Mr. Flynt, HS Principal:
Dear Parents/Guardians and Students,
The school district recognizes the diverse religious backgrounds and values represented in the school community and the importance of being sensitive to the needs of all students and personnel.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. From Saturday, May 27 through Saturday, June 24, 2017, Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast. In addition to fasting, prayer occurs on a daily basis for practicing Muslims. 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.
Please note that this is voluntary and student-initiated. Involvement of school employees is a non-participatory capacity. The allowance of this does not materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school.
Students may arrange with Mr. Gutchell or Mrs. Lennon-McMahan at HSW to use room 65. Students in HSE may see Mr. Flynt or Mr. Smith to access room 109. Parents are encouraged to contact me at 881-0310, ext. 61415 or at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments or concerns.
As always, I appreciate your support of our high school students and programs.