San Diego Arab/Muslim public school practices"serious indoctrination" taxpayer funded madrassa operates as autonomous entity
June 11, 2007
Legality of Arabic class questioned
By Helen Gao
Stephens was assigned March 8 to Carver, where she said she taught a "segregated class" of Muslim girls. She said she was given a lesson plan that included an hour for prayer. She alleged that a teacher's aide led the prayer. Stephens told the school board, "What I saw is clearly a violation of administrative, legislative and judicial guidelines." Principal Kimberlee Kidd said Stephens misconstrued the lesson plan. She confirmed that an assistant was assigned to the classroom for an hour. During that time there was a 15-minute recess, Kidd said. The aide, who is Muslim, prayed alongside the students but did not lead the prayer, she said.
The Carver staff is acutely aware of the law and has been careful not to overstep, Kidd said. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students may pray in school "during recess, the lunch hour, or other non-instruction time." The department also says public school employees may not encourage, direct or discourage prayers or actively participate in them with students. However, teachers may "take part in religious activities where the overall context makes clear that they are not participating in their official capacities."
Carver absorbed more than 100 students from the charter school and also hired its staff. Because the merger happened days before school resumed in September, the Carver staff had little time to plan. As a result, the Arabic program has operated separately from the rest of Carver. Kidd is working on integrating the two programs to eliminate the feeling of two schools on one campus.
San Diego School Schedules Muslim Prayer Breakby Wendy Cloyd, assistant editor
Attorneys ask for similar consideration for Christian and Jewish students.
After Muslim students were given a scheduled prayer break each day, the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is calling for the same accommodation for other students who wish to pray.
Officials at San Diego's Carver Elementary allow Muslim students a 15-minute prayer break each afternoon. Non-Muslim students are instructed to read or write during the break.
Attorney Pete Lepiscopo, a PJI-affiliated attorney, sent a letter last week to the San Diego Board of Education that explains numerous statutory provisions that affirm students' rights of religious equality. Lepiscopo requested that classrooms be set aside for students and employees of all faiths to meet their religious obligations to pray – as is being done for Muslim students.
"The school district has created the opportunity to return prayer to school," he said. "What can be better than children praying while they are in school?"
Bruce Hausknecht, judicial analyst with Focus on the Family Action, said as long as the school adheres to two constitutional guidelines, a designated time of prayer would be legal.
"First, no teachers could lead prayer or pray with students – everything must be voluntary by the students," he said. "Second, the school would have to make the same religious accommodation available for those of all other religions."
In order to ensure that all religious exercise is voluntary, the letter suggests that the prayer times coincide with recess.
Brad Dacus, president of PJI, said voluntary, student-initiated prayer in schools should not be controversial.
"The federal courts have held that schools do not endorse everything they fail to censor," he said. "This could be a terrific opportunity for a whole community to recognize the importance of faith in our youth, without government involvement or interference."