ACLU: School staff allegedly forces student to run during Ramadan

Published: Jul. 5, 2017 at 7:41 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 5, 2017 at 8:19 PM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - An investigation is underway into allegations that a Chesterfield school staff forced a student to run while fasting for religious reasons.

The ACLU claims a student from Bellwood Elementary School was forced to run during her physical education class while she was fasting during the month of Ramadan.

The parent contacted the ACLU, saying the daughter claims she told her teacher she was fasting but was forced to run anyways, and that when the teacher deemed her speed to be unsatisfactory, it was reported the teacher then forced the entire class to continue running as punishment.

"After being forced to run, the fasting student complained of feeling nauseous and weak. We express our concern because forcing an individual who is currently fasting to exert themselves physically violates her constitutional rights and can be medically dangerous," stated the ACLU.

The organization says if true, the allegations would be a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which guarantee students the freedom to practice their religion at school without interference.

The ACLU wrote a letter to Dr. Lane, the superintendent of Chesterfield Public Schools, expressing concern over how forcing a fasting student to run not only violates her constitutional rights, but can also be dangerous.

NBC12 obtained the letter sent on Wednesday from the School Board Attorney to the ACLU in response to the allegations.

In part, it reads, "the school division was alarmed and deeply concerned over the allegations of religious discrimination toward a Bellwood Elementary student fasting in observance of Ramadan. The school division will be conduction a complete review of what occurred at Bellwood Elementary on May 30, 2017."

The investigation in being treated as a Human Resources case.

The letter goes on to say, "the school division will take appropriate action depending on the outcome of this review and will also use this incident as a means to review our existing instructional practices, school board policies, as well as assess the need for professional development on non-western beliefs and customs and our obligations under state and federal antidiscrimination laws."

The ACLU pointed out that requiring a student to run while fasting for religious reasons would also violate the Virginia Act for Restoration of Religious Freedom, 'by imposing excessive burden on a student's religion while there is no compelling government interest to justify forcing a Muslim student to run during her fast, as well as Chesterfield County's own policies regarding religion."

The organization suggests schools accommodate for fasting students by assigning them other tasks to do that do not involve "strenuous physical exertion."

In the letter written by the School Board Attorney, the school division says it "regrets that the parent believes the school division was insensitive to her family's observance of Ramadan."

It promises a member of the school division's administrative leadership team will be contacting the parent in the next few weeks to discuss the school's review of what occurred.

The ACLU stated, "In order to create a welcoming environment where all students are free to practice their religion without discrimination or punishment, we asked the school division to investigate the allegations and ensure Chesterfield County's policies and practices comply with state and federal laws."

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