Muslims want Halal in NYC schools

 
Muslims want Halal in NYC schools
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A Brooklyn politician wants schools to offer halal lunches to reflect the system’s growing Muslim population.

City Councilman Rafael Espinal introduced a resolution Wednesday to expand cafeteria menus to include halal options — saying it’s unfair Muslim kids can’t eat the food schools provide.

Roughly 13% of city schoolchildren — more than 100,000 students — are Muslim, Mayor de Blasio has said, and Espinal says the number is actually closer to 170,000.

He said observant Muslims often go full days without eating because of religious dietary restrictions.

“It’s unacceptable,” said Espinal (D-East New York). “I cannot sit idle while children in my district go hungry in school.”

No date has been set for a City Council hearing on the proposal, but a spokeswoman for Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she is looking into the issue.

Public Advocate Letitia James has been urging the Department of Education to fork over more money so that every public school student can get a free lunch.

But Espinal said that proposal, introduced by James earlier this month, should be inclusive of all students according to faith-based needs — and that includes serving kosher meals to Jewish students.



Rules for kosher and halal food are very similar, with both religions barring pork and dictating how animals are slaughtered. But there are differences — for example, Muslims are generally permitted to eat shellfish while Jews who keep kosher are not.

“While there is an ongoing conversation of providing free lunch to every student, we must also be progressive in instituting lunches that respect the faiths of New York City’s diverse population,” Espinal said.

An Education Department spokeswoman said city school kitchens are not capable of serving fare based on students’ religious needs.

“We are not equipped to customize meals and offer specialty food,” said spokeswoman Margie Feinberg, adding that schools offer vegetarian menus.

But Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union and a practicing Muslim, said it would be easy for the city to contract with halal food vendors.



“Giving them an option to have halal food instead of parents always having to send them with food every day is a good thing,” said Davids, who sends her 5-year-old son to kindergarten at Public School 106 in the Bronx with homemade lunches.

Public schools in Dearborn, Mich., have served halal meat options since 2001 and have since expanded the program to accommodate a rapidly increasing Muslim population.

Kamal Bhuiyan, chairman of the Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group, said his two children often come home hungry because they cannot eat any of the cafeteria food offered in their Queens schools.

“They are not able to eat lunch,” he said. “They come home at 3:30, and they’re weak, tired and fatigued

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