Northshore School District Administrative building. (Northshore School District)

Northshore School District Administrative building. (Northshore School District)

Group tells Northshore schools to stop accommodating Muslims

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund has threatened legal action against the district.

BOTHELL — The Northshore School District has withdrawn a policy accommodating students during Ramadan in response to a “cease and desist” letter filed by a religious freedom organization.

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund is a pro bono legal team that focuses on First Amendment issues, including religion in public schools.

Dieringer School District, serving Lake Tapps in Pierce County, received a “cease and desist” letter from the defense fund earlier this month for allegedly endorsing Islam and following a script by the Council on American-Islamic Relations that urges schools to make special accommodations for Muslim students.

The defense fund sent Northshore, its superintendent Michelle Reid and school board a “cease and desist” letter May 10. The letter demanded the district shut down its Ramadan policy.

Northshore’s Equity and Diversity department previously issued guidelines to school officials to make sure “students have the right accommodations and support from teachers and their peers.”

The original guidelines included the following:

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 some “… 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.”

“Fitness and cardio assessments could be done prior to the beginning of Ramadan,” or allow Muslim students “provide a support role for coach/teacher while being responsible for content learning.” Also “privately offer information about nutritional adaptations” to Muslim students while they fast during the day.

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, defense fund executive director, said in a statement. “Under the mantle of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion,’ school officials have exalted Islam as the state-sponsored religion. Teachers and parents are outraged, and they should be.”

In the defense fund’s “cease and desist” letter to Northshore, it demanded the district “rescind the Ramadan Policy; restore the rights of non-Muslim students of faith to be treated equally under the law; undertake a review of all 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.”

It asked for a written response within five business days. “If we do not receive a response by then, we may be forced to take legal action, by which we will seek injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees,” the letter said.

In Reid’s May 17 “Thursday Thoughts” district blog, 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.

The district suggested a neutral “comfortable space for fasting students,” but informed teachers it’s up to the student to choose to go there or not.

The policy also suggested that PE teachers may accommodate fasting students to avoid strenuous activities. According to the defense fund, both suggestions are likely reasonable under the First Amendment to the extent they would not impose undue hardship on school operations.

“Muslim students no doubt have a right to receive appropriate religious accommodations,” Piedra said. “But Northshore’s plan went above and beyond mere ‘accommodations’; it exalted Islam as the privileged religion in the school district. It is unfortunate it took a threat to sue for district officials to come to their senses.”

The defense fund, which is based in Rancho Santa Fe, California, said it will continue to monitor the district’s actions and is awaiting documents from a public records request. According to district officials, the records will be produced by June 21.

While Northshore has pulled back on its Ramadan policy, a new law in Washington signed April 29 by Gov. Jay Inslee requires college faculty to accommodate students when faith and studies conflict. It takes effect July 1.

The genesis of the law stems from a biology class at UW Bothell taught by Bryan White, who noticed that a student who had done well on the first three exams did much worse on the final. The student mentioned she had been fasting for Ramadan. Some other faculty have made similar accommodations.

More in News & Comment

Malena Gaces, left, and other members of Washington CAN protest unfair move-out charges and alleged discriminatory behavior outside Kitts Corner Apartments in Federal Way in 2018. Sound Publishing file photo
King County could increase tenant protections

The council is considering ordinances designed to help renters.

The 2015 Wolverine Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Chelan. Photo courtesy of the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
The smoky summer that wasn’t

While Washington had a mild season, wildfires burned near the Arctic.

‘I will pay the fines’: Property owner violates city code with large sign opposing marijuana retail in Federal Way

Sign stirs controversy over property owner’s donation of building space to city for potential police substation.

Former classmates, teachers remember murdered Federal Way teen

Sarah Yarborough was strangled on FWHS campus in December 1991; her suspected killer was arrested nearly three decades later on Oct. 2.

Dane Scarimbolo and Dominique Torgerson run Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent. They were almost shut down in late 2017 by King County, which after years of letting them operate a brewery and taproom, decided they were in violation of county code. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Proposed winery ordinance irks King County farmers, neighbors and businesses

Concerns include more traffic, higher land prices, code enforcement and compliance.

Two Federal Way gang members charged with murder of teen dumped in Green River

Suspects allegedly brutally beat boy with a bat, chopped him with a machete before dismembering and dumping his body.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Kim Schrier held a roundtable at the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank on Oct. 3 to talk about the Trump administration’s plan to further change SNAP food benefits rules and reduce the number of people using them. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Murray, Schrier vow to fight White House restrictions on food stamps

Senator and Representative met Oct. 3 at Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank.

King County is considering ways to increase both the supply of and demand for compost to help divert organic material from the landfill. File photo
King County wants to boost composting market

In 2018, around one-third of material sent to regional landfill could have been composted.

Bellevue is the most expensive place in the region to rent an apartment, according to a new analysis. Courtesy photo
Several King County cities are among most expensive to rent in Northwest

Bellevue topped the list for highest apartment rents during the first half of 2019.

Most Read