116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Imagine waking up during winter break, racing your siblings downstairs to open presents, and eating Christmas cookies with family and friends. Now, imagine trying to celebrate Christmas during school.
This is something that many people take for granted; their religious holidays fall during school breaks. Muslims, however, do not get this same benefit during Ramadan, a holy month where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset to get closer to Allah. This leads Muslim students like me to depend on school accommodations to keep up with academics.
On April 13, the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) Board of Education made a great step in religious accommodation by passing a new academic calendar that created school holidays for Eid-ul-Fitr and Yom Kippur. This important victory for Muslim and Jewish students was the result of hard work from students across the district.
The ICCSD should build on this progress and provide accommodations to Muslim students observing Ramadan. This would benefit Muslim students’ academic performance, mental health, and the district’s commitment to religious inclusivity.
My first Ramadan was in fifth grade. Even though I was fasting, I was still required to participate in physical education class. While my peers were drinking at the water fountain after strenuous exercise, I was left thirsty and tired. It would have helped if I wasn’t required to participate or was given alternative activities. Afterward, during class, I had splitting headaches, and I felt too tired to do classwork. This is a struggle that Muslim students have to endure every Ramadan.
This experience is not unique to me. A 2012 research study found that “Ramadan observance has a negative impact on performance; one additional Ramadan week lowers the final grade of Muslim students by almost 10 percent of a standard deviation.” If Muslim students were given flexibility with the difficult portions of the class curriculum that fall during Ramadan, their academic performance would be positively affected.
The ICCSD Board Equity Statement states, “The District is committed to overcoming barriers to learning that have been identified through educational research.” It says that the District is particularly focused on student experiences and outcomes related to religion, alongside other identifiers. Thus, accommodations for Muslim students during Ramadan should be part of the district’s commitment.
Providing accommodations for Ramadan benefits not only Muslim students but the entire student population. It is in the district’s best interest to ensure students are accommodated and able to perform at their highest academic capacity. Ramadan occurs concurrently with standardized testing season, so the district’s average standardized test scores are likely lower than they should be since Muslim students are not accommodated to perform their best. Institutionalizing accommodation also promotes cultural and religious understanding, and minority religious communities are fully integrated, rather than on the sidelines.
Some may say that it is too complicated for the ICCSD to accommodate Muslim students, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we can adapt to change. Teachers, board members, and administration staff adapted schedules and curricula to comply with public health safety guidelines. Thus, the 2020-2021 academic year was atypical, but an example of what happens when we work together to make change.
Ramadan is a time of peace and joy for Muslims around the world. We want to spend time with our families without an undue burden from school or work. While individual teachers and staff members are working to accommodate Muslim students’ needs, the district must step up and honor its commitment to religious inclusivity by making accommodations a school policy.
I call on parents and community members in the Iowa City Community School District to advocate for the accommodation of Muslim students during Ramadan. Our Muslim students should not have to choose between the demands of academic performance and spiritual obligations and traditions. Relieving students from excessive work during Ramadan benefits Muslim students and is in the best interest of the Iowa City Community School District.
Amal Eltayib is a Muslim student at South East Junior High and is a member of the Ideal Reality Union, which successfully organized a campaign for the recognition of Eid as a school holiday.