Officials at a public elementary school in San Diego are dropping special times for Islamic prayers and classes segregated by sex, changes they had made when students from a failing Arabic-language charter school joined them a year ago.
An investigation was launched into what was done at San Diego's Carver Elementary after a substitute teacher, Mary-Frances Stevens, filled in there. She reported a teacher's aide was leading children in an Islamic prayer and that she was given a lesson plan allowing an hour of class time for Islamic prayers.
Now Superintendent Carl Cohn has issued a statement that there were reasons for many of the changes, such as the scheduling of classes around Islamic prayer time, the removal of pork from the lunchroom menu and the establishment of boys-only and girls-only classes, and critics misunderstand what was going on. Nevertheless, he wrote, some of those changes now are being dropped.
"The district is, and must demonstrably be, neutral toward religious belief and practice, leaving to our school children and their parents decisions about religious faith," he said in the memo to Carver Principal Kimberlee Kidd.
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He said Carver teachers and staff "must not encourage student prayer or make any statement that could be construed to be endorsement, encouragement, or promotion of prayer." Nor, he said, should teachers "discourage" voluntary prayer.
He also said during recess and lunch students are free to play, study, talk, read, dream "or pray." Third, teachers and staff must not participate "visibly or audibly in praying" with student groups. And he said the district may not schedule class time specifically around Muslim prayer times.
It was last September when Carver added classes limited to a single gender, and daily 15-minute breaks during class times for voluntary prayers. It had just absorbed a failing Arabic language charter school that served mostly Somali Muslims.
But officials said the school schedule will be set up now so students can say their required midday prayers during their lunch periods, and single-gender classes will be eliminated.
Cohn noted in his memo that such classes are legal, but they had become a "serious distraction" to the educational process and would be discontinued. Offering Arabic as a language study at the school for students grades kindergarten through eighth grade will continue, but he noted that the Quran may not be used as a text.
In a statement released on the Internet school officials said pork disappeared from the school menu simply because it was not "well-accepted."
"It's possible that some of the lack of acceptance may be due to religious backgrounds in the diverse San Diego community but the district was not asked or pressured to remove pork products for that reason," the statement said.
The school that closed, MidCity Charter Academy, had approached San Diego about joining the district, whose officials concluded it was an opportunity to help an immigrant population become engaged in an American school.
Carver was picked partly because it had enough space for the 150 extra students. The changes that followed included offering single-gender instruction and a recess time "during which children could choose to engaged in self-directed activities, including silent prayer."
In a commentary on Pipeline News, the district came in for some criticism for its actions.
"In true multicultural fashion, the school has gone to extreme lengths to accommodate its new students; the curriculum features the teaching of Arabic � the language of the Quran � single gender classes for girls as well as organized prayer ... for Muslims only," the report said.
"A new dhimmi class schedule � expressly designed to kowtow to Carver's new students � was instituted. It created an extra 15 minute recess period as part of an hour set aside so that Carver�s Muslims can pray en-masse while in class. Additionally, the school cafeteria menu no longer serves pork or other foods which conflict with fundamentalist Muslim diet restrictions [halal]," the report said.
It noted even the "winter holiday" was changed to include Muslim traditions.
An editorial at Investor's Business Daily also took issue with the school actions.
"In effect, Carver administrators have carved out a school within a school expressly for Muslims, elevating them above Christian and Jewish students. They've had 15 minutes of instruction time taken away from them, so Muslims can roll out their prayer mats," the editorials said. "It amounts to a special privilege afforded a specific religion, which plainly does not have our best interests at heart."
Officials estimate the district spent about $450,000 to cover additional costs of setting up the changes at Carver.
The controversy had been highlighted numerous times by talk show host Roger Hedgecock.
The American Textbook Council, which analyzes textbooks, has concluded that the situation is the consequence of "the interplay of determined Islamic political activists, textbook editors, and multiculturally minded social studies curriculum planners."
It has gone so far that correcting the situation now becomes a problem, because "educational publishers and educational organizations have bought into claims propounded by Islamists � and have themselves become agents of misinformation."
Even Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes has repeatedly expressed concern about the "privileging of Islam in the United States" and warns the stakes go well beyond 7th-grade texts.
Part of WND's reporting on the situation included a case in Oregon, where parent Kendalee Garner objected to having her son being taught Islam, including the memorization of the "Five Pillars" of Islam and dressing up as a Muslim.
That episode followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision just a few weeks earlier not to review a lower court's ruling that a similar class requirement in the Byron Union School District in California, where students were instructed to "become Muslims" was "cultural education."