Considerations for Educators Supporting Muslim Students in Post-Pandemic Ramadan

Mark your calendars! This year, Ramadan is expected to start on Saturday, April 2, 2022, and end on Sunday, May 1, 2022. 

One can start this by wishing someone a happy Ramadan and saying “Ramadan Kareem!” or “Ramadan Mubarak!”  Educators can also take additional affirmative steps to support and accommodate their Muslim students’ religious needs during such a significant period, as well as to address common misconceptions about Islam and fasting in the school community.  

Islam is built on five pillars which represent its core beliefs and practices. They are: Profession of Faith (Shahada), prayer (Salat), alms (Zakat), fasting (Sawm) and pilgrimage (Hajj). Sawm, which means fasting, is the fourth pillar of Islam observed during the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar during which only healthy adults and young adolescents who passed the age of puberty observe an obligatory act of fasting. The importance of the month commemorates the first revelation day of the Qur’an called Laylat al-Qadr (the night of decree) hidden in one of the days of the holy Ramadan month. Fasting is practiced in various dominant religions including Christianity and Judaism. Unlike these religions, in Islam fasting is refraining from all food, water and other human desires from dawn to dusk for 30 days. Through this temporary deprivation, Muslims are allowed to control their needs, desires, and distractions, giving themselves room to reflect upon their gratitude, devotion, and submission to Almighty Allah. Hence, Ramadan is the month of empowerment because people realize that desires do not drive a person, but it is the person who holds control over them. Fasting is also a learnable moment to share the hunger and thirst of the needy as a reminder of the religious duty to help those less fortunate.  

Some Muslim students may feel lonely or isolated during this period. There are a few suggestions for educators to continuously support their students during Ramadan and show compassion to their religious practice.

Consider:

  • offering a safe place for fasting students to go during lunchtime so that they could rest during breaks
  • avoiding consuming food and beverages in front of these students whenever possible.
  • rearranging high stake exams to be done during the morning sessions closer to when Muslim students have eaten
  • offering alternative, i.e., less intensive, activities during PE classes
  • offering short breaks during lessons
  • avoiding questioning a student if they are fasting or not
  • not planning tests or exams on a recognized religious holiday like Eid-al Fitr

Students might show exhaustion and sleepiness at different levels, not necessarily because of hunger or thirst, but because of changes in sleeping and eating routine. Fasting students and their parents wake up early in the morning to perform morning prayer and have a meal before dawn known as suhoor. The Iftar time, the meal at breaking fast during sunset comes 14-15 hours after suhoor. Because of these changes, fatigue may be noticeably enhanced during this time. Showing compassion and empathy to students during this special time is a good starting point for the normalization of cultural and religious sensitivity. Teachers can encourage students and their colleagues to fast for at least one day in solidarity with Muslim students and/or organize a “Dawn to Dusk fasting” challenge in support of Muslim communities.

Muslim communities are not monolith. Islamic practices may vary from culture to culture and from family to family. While some cultures allow children to fast at the age of seven for several hours a day, others do not. While some families perform additional Tarawih prayers in the evening and spend several hours at night reciting the Qur’an, others do not. For these reasons, communication with students and their families about their Ramadan traditions is the best option to get to know their way of observing Ramadan.

After a month of devotion and self-control, Muslims around the world celebrate the accomplishments of sacred duties performed during Ramadan with the tremendous celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast. Usually, the celebration lasts three days depending on the culture but can be limited to one day, which in no way detracts from its significance. The celebration starts with Eid prayer and continues with family gatherings, gift-giving, and sharing celebratory meals with families and friends. Importantly, Eid accomplishes another core pillar of Islam, paying the annual obligatory payment on the property for charitable purposes called Zakat. Zakat is given to less fortunate families so that they also can enjoy festivities with their beloved ones.

It is equally important to raise awareness of school administrators, nurses, coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and all other school staff about significance of Ramadan for Muslim communities to ensure a multifaceted accommodation. Additionally, accommodating working Muslims during Ramadan is a generous and thoughtful gesture, and they will undoubtedly feel valued and taken care of.

My two middle-schooler children and I are looking forward to Ramadan with immense excitement. We appreciate the time given to us for devotion, submission, and reflection. By sharing this post, I hope to encourage cultural and religious sensitivity for all school communities who have been teaching and welcoming Muslim students of local, immigrant, and refugee backgrounds.

My family wishes you a Happy upcoming Ramadan!

Written by Nasiba Norova
International Ph.D. Student in Applied Linguistics
Research & Teaching Assistant
University of Massachusetts Boston

State Seal of Biliteracy Update for Class of 2022

Graduating students in the Class of 2022, who were not able to take 10th Grade ELA MCAS due to the pandemic, now have the opportunity to earn the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. Legislation passed in December allows 2022 graduates who earn the modified competency determination in ELA to also satisfy the English language criteria for the award. Read more!

2021 MATSOL Award

Congratulations to Gail Ball, who has been honored with the 2021 Anne Dow Award for Excellence & Creativity. Gail is EL Department Head at Worcester Public Schools.

The Dow Award is given annually to a professional who has made outstanding efforts that reflect enthusiasm and creative, energetic, independent thinking. Specific criteria vary from year to year, to reflect the many facets of Anne Dow’s career and interests.  The 2021 award was given for promoting diversity, equity & inclusion for multilingual students and families.  The award is supported by the Anne Dow Family Foundation.

Help Wanted: Virtual Conference Host

Temporary, part-time contract position. Must be available May 24 through June 4, 2021 from 10AM – 5 PM (EDT)

MATSOL is looking for an upbeat professional to support presenters on our digital conference platform during the 2021 MATSOL Virtual Conference, which brings together educators of English Learners from across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to share expertise and best practices. This is a great opportunity for someone who wants to learn more about TESOL and EL education!

The conference will use ZOOM Meeting Pro integrated with the Whova conference platform. MATSOL will provide a ZOOM account for hosts to use during the conference.

Responsibilities:

  • Act as the primary support person for presenters assigned to you during the conference week.
  • Manage attendees in large meetings (up to 100 or more) to ensure presentations go smoothly.
  • Set up ZOOM Meeting and the Whova features before sessions start.
  • Do a tech check with presenters 15 minutes before each session. 
  • Start and stop recording the session.
  • Play conference introduction video and introduce the presenter.
  • Monitor chat and Q&A and relay questions to the presenter. Assist presenters as needed by sharing links, launching polls, etc.
  • Create breakout rooms (if applicable).
  • Remain professional and upbeat throughout the presentation.
  • Troubleshoot any problems during a presentation.
  • Remain in communication with MATSOL team throughout the conference. 

Requirements:

  • Experience facilitating large group meetings and presentations with the ZOOM Pro meeting platform, including using breakout rooms, chat, Q&A, polls, YouTube livefeed etc. 
  • Experience with a virtual conference platform is a plus.
  • Computer or laptop with reliable high-speed internet connection (Two devices, such as a dual monitor or a laptop plus tablet or phone is preferred).
  • Proficient with computers and technology and able to learn new systems quickly.
  • Professional, upbeat demeanor with good communication skills.

Time commitment: 

  • Week of May 24, 2021: Independently review and complete training materials and participate in at least two live training sessions (M/W/F 10-11AM)
  • Tuesday-Friday, June 1-4, 2010: Host up to three conference sessions per day between 10am to 5pm, with breaks in between sessions.

Location: Remote

Stipend: $500.00

Application closed

MATSOL is a nonprofit professional association of educators of English learners in Massachusetts. Our members include educators in PK-12 schools, adult basic education, workplace programs, private language schools, and institutions of higher learning, as well as pre-service and in-service teacher educators. MATSOL is the state affiliate of TESOL International Association.

Testing Equity for English Learners

Date: April 6, 2022

To:  Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

From: Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL) and Multistate Association for Bilingual Education (MABE)

Re:  Testing Equity for English Learners

While we applaud the decision of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to allow students in grades 3-8 to take the MCAS tests remotely this spring, the policy does not address the inequity of in-person testing required for English Learners. In addition to MCAS, English Learners take an annual English proficiency test, ACCESS for ELs, which is only administered in-person. As a result, while their peers have the option to complete all testing remotely, English Learners, many of whom live in communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, still need to go into school buildings for in-person ACCESS testing. This is an inequitable policy that favors some students over others.  

Additionally, as many students return to in-person learning for the first time all year, we believe that students will benefit from more time for academic learning, language development, and social-emotional support, not on taking tests. We call on the Department to immediately postpone the ACCESS for ELs testing for this school year, as allowed by federal guidance.

For a more detailed explanation of our concerns, please see the statement from MATSOL and MABE “2021 ACCESS for ELs Testing” (Dec 8, 2020), which was created with input from our membership.

Below are the action items we requested in the statement. Although conditions have changed since our first statement was released, the concerns detailed in the statement have not been addressed.

  1. School districts should not be penalized for low student participation in the ACCESS for ELs test during the pandemic. As of this date, the Department has not decided about how lack of participation will affect district accountability measures. Likewise, schools and teachers should not be penalized if students do not meet English Proficiency Benchmarks. The Department needs to address how students’ English Learner Success Plans will be impacted.
  2. If the testing goes forward, the Department should provide Districts with a clear message to send to families stating that if a family does not feel safe sending their child to school for testing, they do not have to take the test and that the student and family will face no negative consequences. The Department should assist districts with this communication by providing the message in English and translated into the most common languages. Families can then decide what is best for their child.
  3. Under current guidelines, students can only exit EL programs with a minimum ACCESS score, along with other relevant data including local assessments, MCAS, grades, observations, and the WIDA Performance Definitions to determine “whether students can perform ordinary classroom work in English.” This year, districts should be allowed to use other evidence of language proficiency to reclassify ELs and exit them from EL programs without the ACCESS score.

Read our December 8 statement “2021 Access for ELs Testing” here.
https://matsol.memberclicks.net/assets/Statements/MATSOL-MABE-2021-ACCESS-for-ELs-Testing-12-08-2020-to-post.pdf

See our Letter to the Editor in The Boston Globe, April 9, 2021 https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/04/09/opinion/in-person-test-an-unfair-burden-english-learners/

MATSOL Condemns Anti-Asian Bigotry and Violence

MATSOL condemns the surge in anti-Asian bigotry and violence since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that has negatively impacted the Asian, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community, many of whom are our students and colleagues. Specifically, we are horrified and saddened by the shootings in Atlanta on March 16, 2021 that killed 6 Asian women. We strongly stand in support of racial justice. 

Racism and hatred have no place at MATSOL. We are committed to doing the necessary work to ensure we as an organization are practicing and supporting anti-racism. 

Too often the history of discrimination against the Asian and AAPI community is overlooked and not included in our educational curriculums or conversations about racial justice. We want to make sure our members know that we are a community of educators who value diversity, equity and inclusion both within the organization and within the field of English education.

Please look for updates about how MATSOL will continue to collaborate with our members to address this issue going forward.

MATSOL Board of Directors & Staff


Resources

The MATSOL Educators of Color SIG will meet on Friday, April 9 at 3:30 PM for a listening session. The agenda will be to vent and support each other from the current hate crimes

Please know that this is a space for all educators who identify as People of Color. Please respect the space.

If you’d like to join the group, email Jason Fei at jfei@matsol.org.


Here are a few helpful resources for teaching about the history of anti-Asian violence and racism in the United States (Thanks to Dr. Christine Leider):


TESOL Statement

As an affiliate of TESOL International Association, MATSOL strongly stands by the TESOL statement below:

TESOL Condemns Global Acts of Violence and Discrimination Against Asians

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous media reports and high-profile incidents have shown a growing number of verbal and physical assaults against adults and children of Asian descent in communities around the world. Often fueled by a rhetoric of lies about the origin of COVID-19, these actions and incidents of hate and xenophobia cannot be tolerated and must be denounced at all levels of government and society.

Last year, TESOL International Association (TESOL) supported House Resolution 908 in the U.S. House of Representatives, condemning the growing acts of discrimination and violence that were perpetrated against Asians since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is clear that despite recognition of this problem by many world leaders and advocates, these despicable actions have only continued to grow in frequency.

At its core, TESOL is an organization that values diversity, multiculturalism, and multilingualism. These acts of hatred and discrimination, directed toward communities that are made up of countless English learners around the world, run counter to those values.

TESOL is committed to working with its partner organizations and allies in order to combat the current epidemic of racism, discrimination, and xenophobia that is affecting our communities of color.  

From https://www.tesol.org/news-landing-page/2021/03/11/tesol-condemns-global-acts-of-violence-and-discrimination-against-asians

Equity for the 2021 Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy

Date: March 5, 2021
To: Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

We are writing about an urgent issue for current high school seniors who wish to earn the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy (SSBL) but did not achieve the required score on the 10th Grade ELA MCAS. As English language, dual language and world language educators implementing the awards in school districts throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we urge the Department to allow students who achieve the Competency Determination (CD) under the temporary regulations approved in January 2021 to also satisfy the English Proficiency criteria for the State Seal of Biliteracy.

Before the pandemic, any student earning the CD through an Educational Proficiency Plan had the opportunity to also satisfy the English proficiency criteria for the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. The same policy should hold under the temporary CD regulation for students who cannot come to school buildings for in-person testing.

Read the full letter...

From:
Massachusetts Language Opportunity Coalition
Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL)
Multistate Association for Bilingual Education, Northeast (MABE)

Update on 2021 ACCESS for ELs Testing

MATSOL and MABE sent a letter to the MA Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education on December 8, 2020 urging DESE to cancel 2021 ACCESS for ELs testing. The letter summarized the concerns expressed by our members about about health and safety, equity, test validity, and use of resources, and stated that going forward with testing this school year will have a negative impact on English Learner students and families, furthering educational inequity. Read the MASTOL/MABE statemement here.

We received a reply from Commissioner Riley on January 4, 2021, acknowledging but not really addressing our concerns and stating that the testing will go forward:

[T]he decision to waive statewide testing must be made by both the U. S. Department of Education and the State Legislature, since these tests are required by both state and federal laws. See e.g., G.L. c. 71A, § 7; 20 U.S.C. § 6311; 34 C.F.R. § 200.6(h). The U.S. Department of Education has indicated that they do not anticipate granting any assessment waivers this school year, in recognition of the adverse consequences to students and schools for not assessing and reporting students’ levels of knowledge and skills during the pandemic. Additionally, public health experts acknowledge that schools are among the safest environments for children, so the plan is to assess EL students in the schools they normally attend, following proper health and safety protocols. Read the Comissioner’s letter here.

In addition to the MATSOL/MABE letter, a coalition of legal organizations — Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, Inc. (META), Center for Law and Education, and Lawyers for Civil Rights, Boston — also sent a letter to the Commissioner calling for cancellation of the test.

The undersigned are public interest legal organizations that represent immigrant students
and families. We write today to urge that you take courageous and important action and
postpone the in-person administration of the WIDA ACCESS test for English language learners (ELL) during the COVID-19 pandemic. As public health data amply demonstrates, these students and their families are uniquely and disproportionately at risk of contracting the disease and the WIDA ACCESS in-person testing – which entails multiple separate test administrations over multiple days – places the students at imminent health risk and harm. We respectfully ask that DESE issue guidance to all schools in the Commonwealth concerning ELL students, particularly to inform parents, in English and relevant home languages, that in-person ACCESS testing at this time is voluntary and that parents and students will be not be punished, disciplined, penalized, reported or otherwise sanctioned for their legitimate COVID-19 safety concerns. Read the letter.

WIDA also responded to a letter from the legal groups about testing:

WIDA is not the entity that decides whether testing is delayed or cancelled. States are the
organizations that make those decisions, in consultation with local schools, many of which are meeting face-to-face with safety procedures in place. Read the WIDA letter.

MATSOL and MABE will continue to montior the situation and explore options fo supporting members and their students.

Statement on 2021 ACCESS for ELs Testing

December 8, 2020

To:       Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
            Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

From: Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL)
Multistate Association for Bilingual Education (MABE)

On behalf of our over 2,500 members, including ESL teachers, bilingual teachers, EL and bilingual program directors, and other English Learner (EL) educators in Massachusetts, MATSOL and MABE urge the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to cancel ACCESS for ELs testing in the 2020-21 school year. On December 7, 2020, the Department notified school districts that the testing window has been extended for a second time, allowing testing from January 7 through May 20, 2021, and ELs are expected to test in person in their district “to the greatest extent possible.”  

Our concerns about testing remain, especially any testing that takes place during the winter months. In-person testing is still highly problematic as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. We believe that the most important consideration is how ACCESS testing this year will impact on our students. Going forward with testing this school year will have a negative impact on English Learner students and families, furthering educational inequity. Included in this letter is a summary of input collected from MATSOL and MABE members — educators working with English Learners – who are concerned about ACCESS for ELs testing during the pandemic.

Read the full statement here.

Free Membership for Early Career Educators

Beginning in fall 2020, MATSOL is offering free student memberships to Massachusetts college and university students preparing to become teachers in TESOL, bilingual, and EL education. The MATSOL Board of Directors initiated this new membership program in 2020 to help support early career educators of multilingual students.

MATSOL has also initiated formation of a new MATSOL Early Career Educators Speical Interest Group (SIG) for student members to connect with each other across institutions. Student members may also join other MATSOL SIGs.

Free student memberships are available to new members of MATSOL who are a students matriculated in a degree program in a Massachusetts college or university program for TESOL, applied linguistics, education or related field. Please see the MATSOL membership page for details and restrictions.

Find out how to apply for a free student membership!