Wednesday, August 01, 2007

In San Diego, Prayer OK at lunch, not classes

A San Diego school that drew international attention for setting aside time for Muslim students to pray in the classroom will no longer do so.

Instead, Carver Elementary's schedule will be reconfigured so students can say their required midday prayers during lunch. Courts have long upheld students' rights to pray on their own during lunch or recess.

Another controversial element of Carver's educational program geared toward Muslim students – single-gender classes – will be eliminated.

Superintendent Carl Cohn stressed in a July 18 memo that single-gender education is legal under federal law, but at Carver it “has become a serious distraction from learning rather than a vehicle to promote learning.”

Carver added the single-gender classes and a daily 15-minute, in-class break for voluntary prayers last September after it absorbed a failed Arabic language charter school that served primarily Somali Muslims.

Since a substitute teacher publicly complained about Carver's practices in April, the San Diego Unified School District has been inundated by letters and phone calls from as far away as Europe and the United Arab Emirates.

Some alleged that the school was violating the separation of church and state by giving Muslims time to pray. The district maintained that it is legally required to approve students' request for religious accommodation.

David Blair-Loy, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties, said his organization will monitor how the district carries out the changes related to accommodating prayer.

The ACLU is one of several groups that have been scrutinizing Carver.

“We believe it's much more appropriate to allow students to exercise their rights to voluntary prayer during the existing lunch and recess period, rather than carving out a new and additional recess for that purpose,” Blair-Loy said yesterday...

This from the San Diego Union Tribune.

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