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Parents concerned by move to close school canteens in Abu Dhabi during Ramadan

ABU DHABI // Parents have expressed their concern at a decision to close school cafeterias during Ramadan.

They say that an equal number of children are not fasting because they are not Muslim or are too young.

The Abu Dhabi Education Council, which issued the ruling, said it “does not have a particular policy regarding serving food for students during the holy month of Ramadan, however schools have already been informed that canteens should be shut down”.

Pupils who were not fasting “have the option of eating and drinking indoors”. The authority also recommended that these pupils “bring a snack or lunch from home and can eat it in a room or area outside of their classroom” away from those who were fasting.

Amal Al Maamari, an Emirati mother of three young children who attend private school and are not yet old enough to fast, said when she was a child the canteens remained open during Ramadan.

“Why change now? At home, I cook for my children and I am fasting, so why make it a big deal?” Ms Al Maamari said. “I think it can be managed easily.”

She said her children did not eat the lunches she packed because they preferred the hot lunches served by the school.

“They should keep the canteen open for the non-fasting children, especially the younger ones.”

An American mother of three school-aged children said she thought the ruling went too far.

“In the international schools the vast majority of students are non-Muslim and they’re small, so I have no idea what on Earth they could be thinking,” she said.

Another mother, whose son attends an international baccalaureate school, said pupils were not allowed to drink in public and must visit the headteacher’s office to take a sip. She called the canteen closure surprising.

The edict was issued to schools on June 18, the first day of Ramadan. Parents were told children must bring a packed lunch to be eaten behind closed doors in designated areas.

“It is a bit severe, especially when you’ve got early year students who may only be 4 or 5 or 6 years old, who normally do not get into the fasting regime until they’re quite a bit older,” one private school administrator said. “I can imagine why parents are upset about this.”

The order was not issued in Dubai, where private schools are regulated by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

Children typically begin to practise fasting for just a few hours when they are young, to prepare them for full fasting when they reach puberty.

Doctors say that fasting before the age of 8 can be hazardous to children’s health.

“It’s not obligatory from our religion to fast before adolescence,” said Dr Hala El Hagrasi, a paediatric consultant at Burjeel Hospital. “I’m not recommending to start fasting before 8 years because this will affect the activity and the growth of the child.

“From 8 he can start but very, very gradually. And he should be watched after the first two or three days of fasting for signs of dehydration, or hypoglycaemia.”

At Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, for pupils between 3 and 14, about 85 per cent of the children are not fasting and between 60 and 65 per cent eat lunches and snacks prepared in the school’s cafeteria, said headmaster Brendan Law.

“From a school point of view we are, of course, respectful of where we live and if this is a requirement for Adec, then we are happy to follow suit,” Mr Law said.

The term for public and most private schools finishes next Thursday, with staff expected to work until July 9.

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(via The National)