Thursday, March 14, 2019

The District Seems to Have a Problem with Religion (or at least holidays)

Once again the district missteps on religious holidays.

You may recall that last fall, members of the Jewish faith were not happy that the 2018-2019 school calendar had kindergarten starting on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year).  The district did apologize.

It seemed odd that happened because OSPI has a published list of holidays and important dates for many religions.

Indeed, I also wrote this at the beginning of the school year:
There was also some unhappiness this year over testing during Ramadan (which just happened to fall during the testing window).  For those who might not know, fasting is part of Ramadan until sunset.  Most younger students do not fast but many older students do and taking a test on an empty stomach is rough.

What this all points to is a need to figure out how to better balance communities' concerns with the district doing its job of educating all students. 
So you are large and in charge at the district and you KNOW from last year that having testing during Ramadan - a Muslim holiday that lasts a month and includes fasting during the day (but generally not for younger children) - was a problem.

And yet, somehow someone at JSCEE doubled-down and not only scheduled the testing during Ramadan but also drafted a letter sent to principals that said that maybe parents could allow their child to eat/only partial fast and to get enough sleep.  

None of this had to play out in this fashion and yet, here we are. Again.

One principal, Katie May at Thurgood Marshall, sent it to parents and you can imagine the unhappiness.  (The letter is at the end of this thread.)

There is now a petition from a Muslim community group, the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations:
“This is a consistent issue with the Seattle Public School System,”  said CAIR-WA Executive Director Masih Fouladi. “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.”

Ramadan lasts a month, is often observed through fasting during daylight hours, which often means late nights for observant families. Ramadan is one of the most important holidays in the Muslim calendar. It is inappropriate for a school to suggest how children should celebrate a holiday.

CAIR-WA has prioritized religious accommodations in schools by supporting a Senate Bill ensuring religious accommodations for postsecondary students, sending out letters to schools throughout the state informing them of Muslim holidays and practices, and offering training and consultation to schools looking to increase their sensitivity and knowledge of Islam.
While I would agree that the district is quite tone-deaf AND the testing window is large and they could have avoided testing during Ramadan, I also see the district's side that children need to be well-rested and not hungry in order to do well on tests.

The Superintendent did take pains at the start of the Board meeting last night to apologize and that they did not mean to suggest that parents not have their children follow religious practices.  But the district is also not changing the schedule.

Letter (which I am told was drafted by district staff)

Dear TM Family Member:

This spring, your child will take the Smarter Balanced tests in math and English language arts. Students in grades 5, 8, and 11 will also take the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS).

This is the fifth year our state will administer the Smarter Balanced tests and the second yearfor the WCAS. The results from these tests will give a more accurate picture of whether students are on track to be ready for college or career.

Most students will take the tests online. Our school’s testing dates are listed below.

For more information about the Smarter Balanced tests, visit www.k12.wa.us/smarter.

To try out an online Smarter Balanced practice test, visit https://wa.portal.airast.org/training-tests.stml.

For more information about the WCAS, visit http://www.k12.wa.us/Science/Assessments.aspx.

To try out a WCAS training test, visit https://wa.portal.airast.org/training-tests.stml.

We realize that this year, a portion of the state testing window coincides with the observance of Ramadan. We want to make sure that you are well informed of our testing schedule, so you may help prepare your child to do their best on the assessments. We will be able to offer testing sessions in the morning and will monitor students for fatigue.

Please consider the following:

- Allow your child to eat, or participate in partial day fasting, on testing days.
- Ensure your child is getting sufficient sleep the night before testing days.
- Make sure your child is eating prior coming to school to provide enough energy for the day.

Please email Assistant Principal Susan Lorow at selorow@seattleschools.org if you have questions about state testing.

Thank you for continuing to work with us to make sure your child is successful. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to better support your child. We want your child to leave us with a solid foundation of skills and a future full of opportunities.

Sincerely,

Katie May, Principal

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Follow up letter from Principal May to TM families Thursday afternoon:


Dear TM Community:

As our school’s principal, I take seriously my commitment to make sure each student feels honored, academically supported, and connected to our school community. This includes recognition and support of our family’s diverse faith practices and beliefs.

This last week, content in an assessment letter I forwarded from the district office, caused unintentional harm to our Muslim families and students, specifically those observing Ramadan. This year, the Washington state-scheduled testing window overlaps with Ramadan.

I want to apologize for not reading the district letter more closely before sharing it with families and for the hurt it has caused. While local districts can’t adjust the state’s testing period, schools and staff can make accommodations within the testing window. Our school staff, as they have in previous years, will work in partnership with families and students observing Ramadan to make accommodations for students who are fasting. It is not our place to ask families to forgo a critical aspect of this sacred holiday.

I also think it is important I comment on the district’s intent versus impact. Seattle Public Schools' assessment team was aware of the testing window conflict with Ramadan. They worked with an internal team, including staff who observe Ramadan, to provide school-based guidance on how to best support students and families during this sacred, month-long holiday. This is part of ongoing efforts to be more proactive, responsive, and supportive of the faith practices represented in Seattle Public Schools. Centrally provided supports included guidelines and the sample parent letter you received last week.

The team's intent was to maximize student success by providing school leaders guidance, not to ask families to accommodate testing and abandon a fundamental requirement of their faith. While this was the intention, this commitment was not communicated clearly. The team has since made revisions to the sample parent letter and redistributed to school leaders.

I want to thank everyone for reaching out and sharing your concerns with me. The Thurgood Marshall community is incredible. While this has been a very challenging situation, I have been so grateful to parents and staff that advocated for our students and called attention to the communication issues and misstep. I want to re-emphasize my commitment to ensuring Thurgood Marshall is a safe, welcoming, and supportive school for all students and families. If you have specific questions or continued concerns, please contact me directly at kjmay1@seattleschools.org.

Sincerely,

Principal May


-Update

Melissa Westbrook said...

They worked with an internal team, including staff who observe Ramadan, to provide school-based guidance on how to best support students and families during this sacred, month-long holiday."

I think it odd that staff that observe Ramadan would have signed off on that letter.

Unknown said...

This is just another paroxysm of Seattlite virtue signaling.

The letter states that the testing will be in the morning (when bellies are very full from a large pre-dawn meal) and the students will be monitored for fatigue (even though many Muslim kids simply modify their circadian rhythms).

This all sits on the premise that Muslims haven't been negotiating this bi-cultural state for years.

Chill white folks; Muslims got this.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Unknown, I'm not sure everyone in the Muslim community is clear on what happens. Over at Facebook, one Muslim person argued over whether this was truly an issue and the other was very insulted by what the district did.

And, "a pre-dawn" meal might mean the kids ate at 6 am and the testing is at 9 or 10 am.

And "modify their circadian rhythms" - on a dime,just like that? You've never had a teenager.

ItsNotSafe said...

Forget the testing.

If any other group of children was expected to abstain from food and drink for nearly 16 hours a day for an entire month, people would be calling CPS. Children as young as 9 years old will be asked to do so for 30 days this May, eating before 5 a.m. and fasting until 9:00 p.m.

We need to stop being sensitive to the "community" and start thinking about the physical needs of young children who are being denied hydration and nutrition because of a religious ritual.

Pregnant women who fast during the summer or early in pregnancy are more likely to have children with cognitive disabilities. One study found the rate to be 20% higher. And believe me, many of the pregnant Muslim women in Seattle will fast, especially if it is early in their pregnancy.