Is It That You Can’t Do It – Or You Won’t Do It?

5 Things To Do For Your School-Aged Kids

School aged boy in classroom

If we thought putting our kids on the school bus was hard during COVID, what about being an involved parent?  After a year and a half, as a country, we have experienced: a pandemic, the death of George Floyd, attacks on Asians, an insurrection on January 6th, the emergence of critical race theory, and transgender rights. So we have to ask ourselves – where do we stand on all of this as Muslim parents? And furthermore, what will we do about it as Muslim parents? Because believe it or not, it’s funneling its way into the school system, and will continue to affect our kids as students.  

I recently walked into a coffee shop and overheard some young women talking.  They spoke passionately about a new policy change their siblings’ school had recently approved – they disagreed.  I asked them: “what are you and your family going to do about it?”  They answered, “Nothing – we can’t do anything.” 

Is it we can’t do it, or we won’t do anything? 

I understand how powerless many may feel as immigrants and or minorities, but it’s important we understand that change occurs through engagement and organizing.  Engagement within the school itself.  We must do it, because the alternative is leaving our sons and daughters defenseless in a school system that doesn’t always have their best interest at heart and that’s not working. My Mom (May Allah swt bless her soul) always told me that you could break one toothpick, but you can’t break several together. 

A concept many minority communities, such as the Jewish community and LGBTQ community, have embraced. As a result, they have built up their network and are very organized in how they approach change and make their voices heard.

Mom in hijab volunteering in school library

Our community is growing, mashaAllah.  There was a time when you would only see one Muslim in a school – now there could be at least five in a class.  Some schools have Muslim teachers and or administrators. 

Walking into that coffee shop, I realized that many of us feel we don’t possess any power.  But we do! As American Muslims, we draw from several communities (America, Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Eritrea just to name a few).  We are politicians, entrepreneurs, doctors, taxi drivers, engineers, and most importantly – Mothers. 

I mention Mothers because the PTA presidents, classroom volunteers, soccer parent leaders, etc. are usually Moms.  They are working Moms and stay-at-home Moms just like us.  They know the principals, librarians, and teachers – and they know them by name.  When their children play a sport, they are on the board of the booster club.

Much like the “real world,” the school system is all about who you know.   If you’re not networking at your child’s school, then your child is probably working extra hard to make it through the day.  

I remember volunteering at the library in my son’s middle school.  I learned quickly through my time there that he could use that space for salat, which he did.  I also learned the school’s process – any child coming into the library, or other school area, needed to obtain a pass in advance.  Imagine my surprise when my son’s science teacher called to inform me that he will be sending my son to in-school suspension with the assistant principal. 

I asked, “what did he do?” 

He announced, “he manipulated me.”

I was so confused. My son was in 7th-grade at the time; I wondered why such intense word usage was directed against a 7th-grade boy.  He advised, my son was missing and that he had to call security to search for him. 

He called security to find my son? 

I was baffled. “Where was he supposed to be?” I asked. 

The teacher replied, “homeroom.”

“So why were you looking for him?”

The teacher explained that he wanted my son to take a test during his homeroom time, but that he informed the teacher that he needed to make up a math test instead.  

The teacher went on,

“but, I checked up on him, and he wasn’t with the math teacher.  And he wasn’t in the homeroom class either.  When he returned to his homeroom class, he was asked to come to my class, which your son did.  When I spoke with your son, he told me that he was in the IT class, making up a test.  I asked him if he had a pass, and he said ‘no’.” 

I knew that the homeroom teacher would never let my son go to another class without a pass. 

I asked the science teacher how my son was able to get into the IT class without a pass.  He said, “I followed up with the IT teacher. He did give your son a pass.” 

“Okay, what’s the problem?”, I asked.

“He manipulated me,” my son’s teacher repeated again. 

“Your son wasn’t where he said he was going to be.  And, he told me he didn’t have a pass.” 

I asked the science teacher, “could it be that my son was probably nervous and confused by your questioning” – as I am.  “Once you confirmed with the IT teacher – why wasn’t this dropped?”  

There was a pause; 

If I didn’t ask the science teacher, “I thought you need to have a pass to get into another class” – he would never have said – “I followed up with his IT teacher and he said he was there and he gave him a pass,” showing that there was NO reason to give my son an in-school suspension aside from an of overuse of power.

The conversation ended with an apology to me, and the in-school suspension was dropped.  I thought about the families that don’t know the school’s processes.  In the science teacher’s eyes, my son was a statistic. And if I hadn’t intervened, he could have been forced into (being) one. school to prison pipeline

Dad helping son with homework

Here are 5 important things for every Muslim family to do as their kids go back to school.

1. Be your kids’ first ally at school

An ally is somebody who is on your side, who looks out for you, and who you can trust to be there when the chips are down.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11.  Students have shared that Sept. 11 is incredibly difficult for them due to bullying from teachers and students.  Share this letter with teachers and administrators to support an inclusive curriculum. 

2. Form a network with other Muslim parents at school

Organizing Muslim parents, shows solidarity.  Power is in numbers and supporting each other is great too.  Showing up with other Muslims shows you not only care as a parent, but as a community. So getting your local Masjid involved in your child’s school is key to – community in school

3. Get to know the teachers and administrative staff

Learn their names and have them learn your name – literally. As schools focus on diversity and inclusion – this is a great opportunity for teachers to learn how to pronounce your children’s names

4. Volunteer at school

This is invaluable.  All MOMs are working MOMs – you just need to work around your schedule.  If you can’t volunteer in-person, see if you can donate or send emails, etc.

Volunteering helps you build relationships with teachers, administration and support staff.  It helps the school and gives you more time with your children.  

5. Stay up to date

 Keep up with the school newsletters and emails.  I know it’s a lot, but there’s also a wealth of information in those emails and school calendar.