How Schools Can Support Students Observing Fasting Holidays

CATEGORY: Blog Posts
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education, Public Education
PUBLICATION: California Public Agency Labor & Employment Blog
DATE: Apr 04, 2024

For practicing Muslims, Ramadan began on March 10, 2024, and concludes on Tuesday, April 9, 2024.  Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar devoted to fasting and prayer.  Although not all Muslim students participate in fasting during this month, many schools throughout California do serve students who are abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.  During Ramadan, the traditional expectations of the school day or classes may be difficult for students who are fasting.

Students’ Rights During Ramadan and Other Religious Fasting Holidays

Among other things, the First Amendment prohibits public schools from establishing policies that discriminate against a particular religion or belief.  Where school officials excuse students from class or provide accommodations based on nonreligious needs, school officials must treat religiously motivated requests similarly.  Additionally, Section 220 of the California Education Code prohibits any educational institution that receives or benefits from state financial assistance or enrolls students who receive state financial aid from discriminating based on religion.  Finally, schools may want to provide accommodations for students who are participating in religious fasting in order to achieve their mission and purpose, act with respect, and to demonstrate value of students’ religious beliefs.

Section 46014 of the California Education Code allows public school students to be excused from school to participate in religious exercises or to receive moral and religious instruction, with the written consent of their parents or guardians.  Thus, schools may excuse students on Eid al-Fitr, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024.

Finally, most schools have policies and procedures that encourage instructors and teachers to create and foster a learning environment that is free from discriminatory attitudes, practices, events, or activities, and to prevent acts of hate or violence.  Accommodating and supporting fasting students is likely both consistent with legal requirements and in furtherance of school organizational missions.

Ideas to Support Fasting Students

Schools may adopt several easy and inclusive strategies to accommodate and support students.  Below are some common accommodations or ideas to consider for the learning environment for fasting students:

  1. Permit students to use an empty/quiet area of the classroom for prayer/religious observances.
  2. Excuse absences during religious holidays, and ensure students who miss class can make-up missed assignments.
  3. Allow alternative activities or make-up times for course work that requires strenuous physical activity, especially physical education.
  4. Allow fasting student to adjust their schedules for exams, or other demanding tasks, to accommodate their energy levels.
  5. Avoid penalties for students who may feel lethargic during the day.
  6. Provide students an alternative space during lunch or other times that students are eating.
  7. Provide positive behavior incentive systems that do not rely on food, so as not to exclude students who are fasting.
  8. Allow fasting students to choose seating arrangements that are comfortable for them, especially during activities or events that include food.
  9. Collaborate with students’ families to understand specific needs or concerns, and work together to provide appropriate support.

On the Horizon

The California Legislature introduced Assembly Bill 2377 in February 2024.  If passed, this bill would excuse students in public schools K-12 who are participating in religious fasting from engaging in any physical activity components of a physical education course.  LCW is monitoring this legislation closely, and will provide updates and guidance if necessary.  In the meantime, schools should follow accommodation processes when requested to support the needs of students who are fasting during Ramadan, or any other religious holiday where fasting is practiced.

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