Wash state accommodates fasting Muslims with law that forces colleges to reschedule exams for religious reasons

Colleges will be required to reschedule exams for Muslim students celebrating religious holidays according to a law passed in the state of Washington.

While the recently passed law applies to students of all religious backgrounds who would be affected during exam periods, it was specifically developed to accommodate the needs of Muslim students, according to a report in The College Fix.

A Muslim girl is indoors in her school’s computer lab. She is wearing a headscarf. The girl is concentrating while typing on the computer keyboard. (Getty Images)

Students who, “due to the observance of religious holidays, expect to be absent or endure a significant hardship during certain days of the course or program,” must be accommodated by all public colleges and universities in the Evergreen state.

University of Washington lecturer Bryan White helped formulate the new law requiring schools to reschedule exams for the religious observance of holidays which fall during spring exams, such as Ramadan which has observers fast from dawn until dusk for a full month.

The law states:

The institution’s policy must require faculty to reasonably accommodate students who, due to the observance of religious holidays, expect to be absent or endure a significant hardship during certain days of the course or program. “Reasonably accommodate” means coordinating with the student on scheduling examinations or other activities necessary for the completion of the program and includes rescheduling examinations or activities or offering different times for examinations or activities.

 

White indicated that final exams affect Muslim students the hardest as they observe Ramadan in the spring. His efforts to address the challenge led to Senate Bill 5166, which was signed in April.

Inside Higher Ed spoke to White soon after the bill was signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee:

Three years ago, a star student in one of his classes who had been successful on every other test bombed her final exam. He met with her later, and she offered no excuses but said as a Muslim she had been fasting.

A year later, White decided to hold two sessions of his final exam: one at the typical time during the morning and the other late at night, for Muslim students, to allow them a chance to eat before the test. A couple of his colleagues joined him. The story went viral and was picked up by 40 different news outlets, White said.

And now the practice has been widely copied on the campus of about 5,000 students, White said. Instead of holding a night exam, White said he’s consulted with Muslim students and decided to pick a morning time slot, because an exam in the evening can interfere with the nighttime prayers.

 

“It’s truly easier than anyone thinks,” White told Inside Higher Ed last month, speaking on rescheduling exam times. “We got more people on board when we just reminded them they’re always making accommodations. People have to go out for sports — they might miss an exam if they’re on the football team, or miss an exam because of a wedding, or miss an exam because they’re sick. This is just one more. The whole process is actually easier than everyone thinks it will be, and it’s sustainable.”

“Here in the Pacific Northwest … we can have 4 a.m. sunrises and 10:30 p.m. sunsets,” Everett Community College sophomore Claire Denise told The College Fix. “If Ramadan is during that, a person cannot eat or drink between those hours, making life suck [for them].”

She noted that there is potential for abusing the new law but that “professors have to accommodate.”

“It’s the law now, so if they don’t accommodate, a student can sue,” she said.

Twitter users slammed the pandering by Washington state lawmakers.

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