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Letter to NYC Schools Chancellor on Behalf of Muslim Students

Thursday Oct. 14, 2004 Mr. Joel I. Klein, Chancellor New York City Department of Education 52 Chambers Street, Room # 320, B4 New York, New York 10007 Re: Denial of Student Requests for Accommodation to Observe Ramadan – Brooklyn International High School Dear Chancellor Klein: We read with concern a story that appeared in today’s edition of The New York Times, Denied Time Off for Ramadan, Brooklyn Students Start Petition, Metro Section, B.4, col. 5. The Times reports that school officials at the Brooklyn International High School will not permit Muslim students early release time to attend religious mosque services on Fridays during the month of Ramadan, the holiest period of the Islamic Year. Ramadan begins this year on Thursday, October 15, 2004 and ends on November 14, 2004. At the direction of Michael Coneys, today’s “attorney on call” at the Department of Education, we have written directly to Principal Kathy Fine. A copy of our correspondence to Principal Fine is enclosed. In that correspondence, we noted that if the facts as reported in the Times are true, Brooklyn International High School officials’ refusal to accommodate the students’ requests to participate in religious observances and practices is in violation of the New York City Department of Education Chancellor’s Regulation A-630. The school officials’ refusal to afford these students religious accommodation also violates the students’ rights to free exercise of religion as guaranteed them under the federal and New York State Constitutions. We appreciate that the Department of Education amended Chancellor’s Regulation A-630, first promulgated in 1979, in February 2003. That regulation sets forth the New York City Department of Education’s policy guidelines for “schools to follow in addressing requests for accommodation of students’ religious education, observances and practices.” We believe that the newly amended regulation appropriately comports with federal and State Constitutional norms. We do not know whether the events reported in today’s New York Times, if true, simply reflect a lack of understanding or are the product of a wanton disregard of the Department of Education’s policy and the protections afforded students under both the federal and New York State Constitutions. Thus, we are calling upon the Department of Education to take affirmative steps to investigate and address the situation at Brooklyn International High School to ensure that the students who have sought a religious accommodation are afforded that accommodation and to correct any misperceptions that may be held by the school personnel involved in the event at issue. Regrettably, as this episode at Brooklyn International High School would appear to demonstrate, the Department of Education often fails to ensure that its policy guidelines are, in fact, understood and followed by all New York City school personnel. Accordingly, we urge you to develop and implement teacher training concerning the First Amendment rights of students. The Chancellor’s office should also monitor and follow-up on complaints. We would be happy to work cooperatively with the Department of Education in developing training materials in this area. Very truly yours, Donna Lieberman Executive Director Beth Haroules Staff Attorney enclosure Click here for the letter to Kathy Fine, Principal of Brooklyn International High School

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