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June 22, 2017

Update (July 5, 2017): In response to our letter, Chesterfield County Public Schools superintendent expressed his grave concerns about the allegations of religious discrimination at Bellwood Elementary School and confirmed that a complete investigation of the incident will be conducted. We applaud CCPS officials' efforts to affirm their commitment to providing all students an education in an environment free from discrimination based on religious beliefs.

According to multiple reports, a student from Bellwood Elementary School, who was fasting during the month of Ramadan, was forced to run in her physical education class, with no consideration for the special needs arose from her religious practice.  The ACLU of Virginia wrote a letter to Chesterfield County Public Schools superintendent to express our serious concerns regarding this incident, explaining how forcing a fasting student to run violates her constitutional rights and can be dangerous. If the allegations are true, this burdensome requirement would violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which guarantee students the freedom to practice their religion at school without interference.

In addition, we pointed out that such a requirement 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. Instead, we suggested that schools accommodate for fasting students by assigning them other tasks that do not involve strenuous physical exertion.

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.

You can read our letter in full in the attached document below.