Preparations, accommodations underway for Ramadan at local charter school

School officials say approximately 30 students at Boys' Latin Charter have signed up for the Ramadan accommodations.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Saturday begins the holy month of Ramadan. It's a sacred period that involves days of praying and fasting for Muslims.

"Ramadan is the holiest time of year for Muslims," said Timothy Welbeck, civil rights attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Philadelphia chapter. "It's supposed to take place during the period of time when the prophet Muhammad received the revelations that lead to the writings of the Koran."

The period of Ramadan involves abstaining from pleasures in order to become more in tune with one's faith.

The practice includes fasting from sunrise to sunset every day of Ramadan without even consuming water during that time. Prayers throughout the day accompany the practice of fasting.

The important time of year is one that administrators at Boys' Latin Charter School in West Philadelphia couldn't ignore.

"We have a huge Muslim population. I'm Muslim myself," said Byshir Randall, 12th grader and student body president at Boys' Latin.

Principal Eros Uthman-Olukokun says students advocated for themselves to obtain accommodations for Ramadan.

This year, those accommodations improved when the school added designated classrooms for Muslim students to do their prayers during Ramadan.

"You can't learn if you don't feel your voice is being heard and your needs are being met," said Uthman-Olukokun, who is Christian but has come to understand much about the Muslim faith.

Students participating in Ramadan will be able to obtain passes to go to the private section rooms, which are supervised by staff members who are also adhering to the Muslim faith.

"We have a list of learners who are going to be participating. So they get a pass from their educator to go to that space," said Uthman-Olukokun.

The classroom spaces are also available to students who are fasting.

"Since they're going through fasting, we didn't want them to have to sit in the dining hall with everyone else eating," Uthman-Olukokun added.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says that while private schools can choose to accommodate Muslim students, public schools are required to provide accommodations.

The same goes for many businesses.

"If employers have 15 or more employees, they must offer religious accommodations so long as it doesn't create what the law calls an undue burden," said Welbeck.

Those schools and businesses should also prepare for the emotional and physical challenges resulting from a month of not eating or drinking from sunup to sundown.

"For other people, it's a regular ordinary day for them. They're still eating and drinking, so it can be difficult," said Asiyah Jones, CAIR youth leadership and advocacy project coordinator.

School officials say approximately 30 students at Boys' Latin have signed up for the Ramadan accommodations.

Randall appreciates the accommodations that help him and his fellow students to participate in a sacred time without sacrificing school.

"I feel it's great," he said.

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