At Parkdale High School, a public magnet school in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Muslim students who have parental permission and acceptably high grades are allowed to get out of class every day to pray.
About 10 Muslim students participate in the program, Parkdale High’s principal, Cheryl J. Logan, told the Washington Post. They belong to the school’s Muslim Students’ Association. They leave class at an appointed time each day and go pray together in an appointed place.
One additional Muslim student is reportedly working diligently to raise his grades so he can join the group.
Principal Logan said that the program faced some backlash among teachers when it was initially unveiled. According to Logan, though, public schools are legally allowed — at least in some ways — to accommodate students who want to practice their religion on school grounds.
“I’ve been real happy with how we’ve been able to deal with it without it becoming an issue,” Logan told The Post.
Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, told The Post that the religious accommodations Parkdale High provides to its Muslim students are “certainly permissible” from a constitutional perspective. At the same time, he noted the accommodations likely aren’t required.
State law is another variable, Haynes said. Some states have laws on the books that direct schools to “simply treat everyone the same way and not give exemptions or special accommodations for religious reasons.”
Haynes suggested that Parkdale High School’s policy allowing Muslim students to leave class daily for prayers might not be a prudent course of action. Accommodating one group could mean accommodating another one, and then another.
“Once you start down that road then you really are in a bind,” Haynes cautioned.
Haynes also noted that exempting only students with good grades could be a legal problem for the school.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he told The Post.