All was good until P.E. class, where I was told that I had to swim and that only medical reasons are accepted if one can’t. Due to cultural and religious reasons, I can not swim alongside men. I approached my coaches and they weren’t happy when I explained my situation. They said, “You’re not the first to say you can’t and usually when the parents hear their kids will get an F they will understand.” I repeated myself, I can’t swim with men. There was a male student beside me as I said it and one of the coaches told me “You’re beside him and in class you are by men too, and it’s not against your religion to wear swimsuits, you only need to cover your skin.” I wish my ninth-grade self-had the fire I have in me now to let her know she will not tell me what my faith is. Sitting next to a guy in a classroom is not the same as swimming with a man. Furthermore, swimming isn’t the only thing that goes on between female and male students when they’re in the swimming pool. I didn’t want to subject myself to that.For those who may have missed it, the Constitution guarantees free exercise of religion and non discrimination. So telling a student she must choose to either violate her religious beliefs or get an F and not graduate is illegal.
Dirk Tillotson is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Great Schools Choices, which supports community-based charter school development and increasing access for underserved families. He has worked for over 20 years supporting mostly charter community schools in Oakland, New Orleans and New York City, and he’s even consulted on education issues in the Middle East. As a child, his parents moved their family to a high-performing school district where they were the first Black family on the block. The challenges of that experience embedded in him a desire to create academically high-quality schools where students don’t have to check their identities at the door. Dirk currently resides in Oakland, California, and blogs at Great School Voices.
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