Monday, April 07, 2014

Muslim parent upset over school flyer promoting church's Easter egg hunt

Easter eggs are a pagan fertility symbol, nothing to do with Christianity.  They derive from the pagan Babylonian goddess, Astarte

Some Muslim parents are concerned about public schools in Dearborn handing out flyers to all students advertising an Easter egg hunt, saying it violates the principle of church and state separation.

A flyer headlined “Eggstravaganza!” was given to students this week at three elementary schools in the Dearborn Public Schools district, which has a substantial number of Muslim students. The flyer described an April 12 event at Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church in Dearborn featuring an egg hunt, relay race, and egg toss. It asked students to RSVP “to secure your free spot” and included images of eggs and a bunny.

“It really bothered my two kids,” said parent Majed Moughni, who is Muslim and has two children, ages 7 and 9, in Dearborn elementary schools. “My son was like, ‘Dad, I really don’t feel comfortable getting these flyers, telling me to go to church. I thought churches are not supposed to mix with schools.’ ”

Moughni said he’s concerned about “using school teachers paid by public funds ... to pass out these flyers that are being distributed by a church. I think that’s a serious violation of separation of church and state.”

David Mustonen, spokesman for Dearborn Public Schools, did not respond Thursday to several requests by the Free Press for comment.

The pastor of Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church defended the flyer, saying it was approved for distribution by Dearborn Public Schools and is not promoting a religious event.

“It’s designed to be an opportunity to invite the community to come for a day of activity,” said Pastor Neeta Nichols of Cherry Hill. “There is not a religious component to this event.”

“Part of our ministry in Dearborn is to invite the community to let them know we’re here,” she added. “We’re offering various kinds of programming, fun opportunities, so what we can be engaged with the community.”

But Moughni and others are worried that churches are trying to convert their youth through the Dearborn schools. Moughni said his children received flyers for Halloween events at another church last year.

And in recent years, other Muslim parents have complained about what they say are attempts to convert their children. The Conquerors, a Grandville-based group of Christian athletes who display feats of strength to spread the message of Jesus, have performed in Dearborn schools, drawing some concern. In 2009, there was controversy over an assistant wrestling coach who some parents said was trying to convert Muslim wrestlers, which the coach denied.

Moughni said he greatly respects Christianity, but believes that schools should not promote events related to religious holidays. He said he would oppose flyers that promoted events at mosques as well.

Part of the debate centers around whether Easter is entirely a religious holiday, or one that combines Christian and Western cultural traditions such as the Easter bunny and eggs.

Greg Lipper, senior litigation counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he has some concerns about the flyer since the event is being held at a church.

“It would be one thing if this were an Easter egg hunt in an otherwise secular setting,” say, the White House Easter egg hunt, he said. “But this invitation was for an Easter egg hunt at a Christian church — and so the event has much clearer religious connotations. Context matters.”

Lipper added that the legality of flyer distribution in schools depends on whether the district is favoring some institutions over others. Schools can’t favor one religion, he said.

“The younger the children, the greater the concern,” Lipper said. “Children are more impressionable than adults, and elementary schoolchildren are more impressionable than any other students. And so the school district has to be especially careful about appearing to endorse ... a particular religion.”


Bid to bring forward GCSEs so Muslim pupils aren't fasting for Ramadan while they take their exams

GCSE and A-level examinations could be brought forward for  hundreds of thousands of pupils to avoid a clash with Ramadan under controversial proposals.

Teachers and lecturers in England and Wales are pushing for the summer exam timetable to be altered to help Muslim students who will be fasting when they sit papers.

School exam boards and universities are considering the radical shake-up from 2016, when the religious period of Ramadan clashes with the exam season.

One option is to hold some exams earlier within the usual May-June exam season. Another is for fasting Muslim students to be eligible for extra marks under ‘special consideration’ rules if they believe their performance has been affected.

The holy period in the Islamic calendar, which requires Muslims to fast during daylight hours, starts to fall earlier and earlier in the summer from next year, progressively clashing with the exam season in June.

The clash also coincides with Michael Gove’s return to O-level style exams, which are taken at the end of the two-year course rather than at intervals throughout it – making the summer exams the only chance to do well.

This month, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Union (ATL) conference will debate how to ‘minimise the impact’ on Muslim pupils.

Barry Lingard, who is on the ATL executive committee, said: ‘The consequences are quite huge, particularly with the return to three-hour exams at the end of the course in the summer.

If some of the big vital exams like English and maths could be rescheduled for before Ramadan kicks in, that would certainly be supported by the majority of teachers.’

Ofqual, the exam watchdog, and the Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the main three exam boards, have met with Muslim groups to discuss the issue.

Another suggestion is to run exams in the morning, when pupils are less likely to be hungry and tired, rather than the afternoon.

The government-funded Equality Challenge Unit, which advises higher education, said exam time-tables should be overhauled.

‘Institutions should be prepared to consider significant adjustments to their exam schedules and think creatively about assessment methods in order to eliminate disadvantage to particular groups,’ it said.

Muslim undergraduates at university are also affected by the clash of dates. At the University of East Anglia in Norwich, they have already been told: ‘Where a student feels that fasting has affected their performance, this should be submitted as an extenuating circumstance.’

But Chris McGovern, a former head teacher and spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, said children had been coping with exams for decades in many different circumstances.

‘Where there is scope for some flexibility the exam boards should exercise it, but I don’t think it is realistic for a board to rearrange their timetable to fit in with a minority religion, or any religion for that matter,’ he said.

‘If you run exams in the morning because of this, you may be disadvantaging a non-Muslim pupil who then has two exams in one day rather than one.’


The Finns can't educate minorities well, either

Because Finland scores well on PISA tests, there has been much interest in that remote Northern land's rather laidback public education system. But that raises a problem: Finland hasn't been very diverse until recently despite having a huge border with a much poorer country (secret: land mines). So, many accounts of Finland's education system in America simply assert that immigrants do great in Finland. Only problem: not true.

From a Google Translate version of a Finnish government account of the results of the latest PISA test, this one on "problem-solving:"

Immigrants fared poorly compared to the native population differences between the native population and the migrant pupils' problem-solving skills were high in all the participating countries. In Finland, the main population, representing the students 'scores averaged 526 points, while second-generation immigrant students' backgrounds ¬ an average of 461 points and a first-generation 426 points. In Finland, migrant and native population, the difference between success was greater than in the participating countries on average.


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