to get religious accommodation in the public school system: a 6-step guide
By Sound Vision
Does your child
need a prayer room to perform Zuhr in during lunchtime? Does he need time
off for Juma? Or do you want to convince a teacher or principal to give
your daughter the day off for Eid-ul-Fitr?
Whatever Islamic obligation you want accommodated at your child's school,
it must be done in a methodical, clear and proper manner.
Shabbir Mansuri is founding director of the Council on Islamic Education
in Fountain Valley, California.
He provides tips and advice on how to get religious accommodation for
Step #1: know the laws about religious
Knowing what laws and regulations govern the issue of religious accommodation
is crucial before attempting to reach the right authorities. It is also
important to understand what is defined as a "reasonable limit" on religious
You Need To Know About for the specifics.
In the United States, one of the strongest arguments in favor of seeking
religious accommodation for your child is former President Bill Clinton's
1995 statement of principles addressing the extent to which religious
expression and activity are permitted in public school. This was given
to every school district in the US.
Get the help of other officials if necessary to properly understand these
laws. A good place to check with is The Freedom
Forum First Amendment Center. They have produced a booklet entitled
A Parent's Guide to Religion in the Public Schools. You can call them
at (615) 321-9588.
Step #2: get the support of a teacher
"[The first thing I would do is] arm myself with that piece of information
and then set up a meeting with the principal of the school along with
one of my favorite teachers at the school who will be very supportive,
requesting that my son or daughter should be either permitted to [for
example] go out to perform Juma prayer at a local Masjid and/or be allowed
to perform Juma prayer along with other Muslim students on the school
campus," says Mansuri.
Getting the support of a teacher is crucial. It indicates to the principal
that the religious accommodation you are seeking will not interfere with
your child's performance as a student.
Mansuri says that in most cases, these two steps are all that are needed
religious accommodation from your child's school.
However, if the principal refuses to grant the accommodation, step three
will be necessary.
Step #3: leave a paper trail, but first,
be really nice
"If you find the meeting is not going anywhere then leave a paper trail,
meaning, write letters. But before I do that, I would try to do it in
a very non-confrontational way by simply sitting down with the principal
and a teacher," says Mansuri.
"Try to understand this process where I want to make sure this is not
us versus them, but simply the notion of my exercising my constitutional
rights in the most respected [way] with compassionate manners, leaving
my ‘baseball bat'," he explains, referring to an approach that is harsh
suggests inviting the teacher and principal over for dinner as a gesture
#4: writing to the supportive teacher
"My first letter would be to my kid's favorite teacher to ask the
person's advice," advises Mansuri. "The letter will be to request
to meet with teacher, and it will indicate I want to discuss with you
my child's religious needs and I would like to share with you what our
president has instructed the teachers and schools to accommodate them."
(See a sample
letter to the teacher)
Following the meeting, a thank you letter to the teacher should be sent.
It will also indicate you would like to set up second meeting with the
school's principal, and ask the teacher if s/he would be kind enough to
go with you to discuss the topics the two of you talked about in your
first meeting (see a sample
thank you letter to the teacher).
"This will leave two or three letters," notes Mansuri, but in
each letter "the tone of my letter should be my bringing the information
as politely as I can. (I am trying to) maintain my rights for the schools
to accommodate my child's religious needs. So it's a non-threatening letter."
Step #5: meeting a second time with the
Before attending this second meeting with the principal and teacher, "I
would also arm myself with the district's education code along with the
state educational code as it relates to the topics that I'm going to discuss,"
This can be done by simply calling your district and the state office
and asking them to give you the specific educational code that relates
to the religious obligation you are seeking accommodation for. That office
would fax you the information the same or next day.
Once again, Mansuri stresses that the approach in discussing the matter
a second time with the principal should not be confrontational.
"While meeting with the teacher and/or principal, I'm not trying
to win an argument by telling them how much I know but rather giving them
a very clear understanding that while I understand my rights as a parent,
I'm simply there to help them accommodate my child's needs that they are
supposed to do anyway," explains Mansuri.
"Make it a win-win situation, not an us versus them situation, and
that in itself is the message of Islam."
By this step, Mansuri says your child should have his/her need(s) accommodated.
Step #6: if necessary, repeat these steps
with the school district’s superintendent
You can repeat the letters and meet with the school district superintendent
if the principal still does not accommodate. The superintendent is responsible
for all schools in a particular district. Once again, the approach must
remain polite and non-confrontational.
Since the president's instructions were issued to districts, it is possible
superintendents may be more familiar with them. This should mean your
son or daughter will get religious accommodation with no further problems.