Last Friday, Frisco ISD received a letter in the form of a press release from the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton inquiring about a prayer room at Liberty High School.
The press release, signed by Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie, was addressed to Frisco Superintendent Jeremy Lyon and questioned the legality of the prayer room. In the press release, Leonie states his concern that the room is dedicated to Islamic students and excludes other religions.
“Instead, it appears that the prayer room is dedicated to the religious needs of some students – namely, those who practice Islam,” he stated in the press release.
Lyon responded to the press release with a public letter of his own, assuring Leonie that the district was compliant with the law. In the letter, he also questioned the motive of the original inquiry.
“Absent such evidence, this ‘Press Release’ appears to be a publicity stunt by the OAG to politicize a non-issue,” Lyon writes.
Regardless of the motive from the attorney general’s office, the public communication garnered national attention earlier this week. In fact, if you were to Google “Frisco,” the top stories are all related to Liberty High School.
The room has been used for prayer at Liberty High School for seven years. However, some say calling it a prayer room is misleading. It is a normal classroom. The teacher using the room has a conference period from 2:05 to 2:30 p.m. every day. Any student who has a corresponding lunch period on Monday through Thursday may use the room to study or pray. On Fridays it is open at the same time to anyone with a corresponding lunch or any student who has a permission slip from their parents.
“The room was not created for prayer,” said Chris Moore, FISD’s executive director of communications. “The room was created within the scheduling of the school. It’s a standard room that is there and it’s used throughout the course of the day from the time school starts to the time school ends.”
The act of opening the room up for prayer began seven years ago. The principal at Liberty High School noticed that a lot of Muslim students were missing class on Friday to go to the nearest mosque, which was in Plano at the time. These students were required to be signed out by their parents. Any religious-related absence counts as an excused absence.
“We are within all legality,” Moore said. “It’s open and accessible to everybody.”
Muslim students were missing up to an hour and a half of class time each Friday, so the principal talked with parents about potential solutions. To cut travel time, the principal made a space available where Muslim students at Liberty could go to pray on Friday. They still have to present a permission slip from their parent or guardian to miss class.
“The parents at Liberty have been overwhelmingly supportive of the principal and the district in the midst of what has happened,” Moore said. “Up to the letter from the attorney general on Friday, there was no chatter because it was a known, it was something the was accepted, it was something that’s just part of the day.”
Moore said the press release surprised the district. The majority of feedback the school receives with regard to the room being used for prayer is positive, he said.
“Never before have we received notice from the attorney general through a press release,” Moore said. “We weren’t given an opportunity to clarify before the question was made public to the entire world. We could have alleviated a lot of the confusion by a simple phone call.”
Additionally, Liberty High School is not the only school to have a room available for prayer. Heritage High School has a similar space available, though not as large scale as Liberty High School. This, in part, is due to the fact that 24 percent of Liberty’s student body is Asian, and included within the demographic are many students who practice Islam.
“Frisco is diverse, Liberty is diverse,” Moore said. “Liberty represents our student body pretty closely.”
On Monday, Frisco ISD’s attorney spoke on the phone with the attorney general’s office. The attorney also sent a follow-up letter summarizing the phone call. While it is unclear if an understanding has been reached, Moore said there should be an understanding that Frisco ISD was operating within the law.