Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic year, and fasting throughout the month is one of the five pillars of Islam. Thus, many Muslims around the world observe a fast—from not just food but also water, cigarettes, and other indulgences—from sunrise to sunset, breaking their fast with a meal called iftar.
People who are elderly, sick, pregnant, etc., are exempted from fasting, as are young children. Some Muslim kids begin fasting around puberty, though in some families they may begin at a younger age. All of this is background to explain why some families are upset by a Seattle elementary school principal’s email that suggested Muslim families allow their children to eat during Ramadan, because standardized tests will be administered during that time.
Crosscut, a non-profit news site that covers the Pacific Northwest, reports that Thurgood Marshall Elementary principal Katie May sent the email earlier this week, noting that part of the state’s standardized testing window falls during Ramadan. As a result, she wrote, families might consider “allow[ing] your child to eat, or participate in partial-day fasting, on testing days.” Children presumably perform better at tests when they are well-fed and free from distractions, sure, so the timing of the testing during a holy month is what’s most troubling to many parents.
“This is 100 percent the same thing as making children take their test on Christmas or Easter,” someone commented on Facebook, according to Crosscut. Others have been using Facebook to ask the Council on American-Islamic Relations to step in and hopefully resolve the scheduling conflict. Still others say this is an example of the school district trying to tell Muslim families how to practice their religion.
Other Seattle-area schools have in the past made accommodations to allow students observing Ramadan to more easily participate in school activities. The Seattle Times reported last year that some schools have moved their traditional prom dates, have restructured graduation rehearsals, and have added the Muslim holiday of Eid to school calendars. But it seems the standardized testing schedule at Thurgood Marshall Elementary has thus far not been adjusted.
In response, the Washington chapter of the Council On Islamic Relations, America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, issued a statement calling on Seattle schools to retract the email and take all religious holidays into account when planning the year’s academic calendar.
“This is a consistent issue with the Seattle Public School System,” CAIR-WA executive director Masih Fouladi said in a statement. “If they are committed to making education equally accessible to all then they need to be committed to honoring diverse religious practices in the community.”