The Brentwood Union Free School District will begin serving halal-certified food in September.
The district unanimously passed a resolution on July 20 to offer a halal option in the district’s 19 kitchens. The resolution was introduced by trustee Hassan Ahmed, the first Muslim and Pakistani American official elected in Suffolk County.
The district previously considered offering halal foods after community members requested the addition, Ahmed said, adding he was pleased one of his first acts as a trustee was diversifying food options in schools. Halal food is processed according to Islamic law and is free of forbidden ingredients, such as pork.
It’s unclear how many Brentwood students will choose the halal option, whether for dietary preference or requirement. The population of Muslim students is growing and Ahmed estimates more than 1,000 Muslim families are in the district, which has two mosques.
School lunch manager Carol Ann Grodsky said the district will survey families to gauge interest.
Dua Hanif, a 16-year-old rising senior at Brentwood High School, said she felt bored by the same prepackaged options at the lunch counter: a tuna sandwich, a bagel and pizza. Anything else carried the risk of contamination, she said.
“It would just be weird seeing everyone else eating what they wanted, but then we would not have the same luxury,” she said.
Although the district is still finalizing offerings, Ahmed said it will likely serve protein that is cooked, packaged and frozen in a halal-certified kitchen. Cafeteria staff will undergo training on how to properly handle halal food and avoid cross-contamination, Grodsky said.
The cost of implementing the program is expected to be minimal to none, Ahmed said. Meals are already free to all students.
No Long Island school district offers permanent halal options, Ahmed said. South High School in the Valley Stream district launched a halal pilot program in 2017. A school spokesman did not respond to a Newsday inquiry about the pilot. The New York State Education Department does not track whether districts serve halal food.
“We’re kind of attempting to go into the wild, wild west and create a model in the largest district,” Ahmed said. “There is really no one to look to.”
Dr. Sara Siddiqui, a pediatrician and board member of the United Muslim Council, praised the Brentwood board’s decision to serve more inclusive food.
“Giving students proper nutrition, healthy foods, proteins … throughout the day is going to impact their further learning capability and make them a better student,” she said.
The Brentwood district previously offered halal chicken nuggets in all cafeterias in honor of a halal appreciation day. The addition of halal food will not only ease the burden on Muslim parents who pack meals for their children, but also serve as a way to teach students about halal meals and customs, Ahmed said.
“I had a lot of friends come to me … and they were genuinely curious,” said rising Brentwood senior Minnahil Tariq, 16. “It’s not just about the food; it’s about educating others and sharing about our culture.”