How to Support Muslim Students When Ramadan Overlaps with School Year

Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims, began at sundown on Sunday, May 5, and will end at dusk on Tuesday, June 4. As the holiday’s specific dates vary from year to year, this is the first time that it coincides with the typical American school year in more than a decade, according to a special report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Accommodating students who participate in this month of fasting and prayer requires special considerations from schools and educators.

Muslims fast from dawn to sunset during Ramadan. Children as young as seven may participate to a limited extent in this tradition and all who observe the holiday are expected to begin fasting by the time they reach puberty, according to the Islamic Networks Group. This poses problems for Muslims in American schools, where activities and mealtimes operate on a regular daytime schedule.

For K-12 schools, special consideration should be given to fasting students during lunch and snack times. The Missouri Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Missouri) says it is important to give Muslim children options. Spending lunchtime with friends is an important social component of the school day, but schools can also offer special areas for play and relaxation if fasting students would rather avoid the cafeteria.

Mornings during Ramadan tend to start with a pre-dawn breakfast. Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles recently started offering a breakfast service from 4:30 AM to 5:30 AM to make it easier for Muslim students to find wholesome, halal food before the sun rises. LMU’s dining services created this option after a non-Muslim student’s research project found that some American colleges do not accommodate Ramadan dietary needs.

Schools should be cognizant of the fact that students may be fasting as they prepare for final exams or complete end-of-year projects. When possible, educators can make simple accommodations to support students trying to balance important academic duties with sacred religious traditions. In June 2017, University of Washington at Bothell professor Bryan White received widespread praise for offering fasting students the option to take a final exam scheduled for 8:45 AM after sundown. Recognizing that daytime exams put Muslim students at a disadvantage, other instructors have since followed suit.

Educational institutions should also be aware that Ramadan requires extra prayer. CAIR-Missouri suggests K-12 schools provide a space and time, typically 5 to 10 minutes, for students to pray between 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM. Professors should also be aware of this need should afternoon prayer overlap with class or exam times.

Additional considerations include supporting student athletes and students in physical education courses who are fasting. Coaches and instructors should be aware that these individuals are likely going without water in addition to forgoing food. Educators can excuse or regularly check in with such students during exercise, advises CAIR-Missouri, but ultimately leave decisions of whether or not to participate in regular daily activities up to their discretion.