Any attempts at scheduling the prayer time for the students to take place within a concise time frame can be easily sabotaged if a proper space is not put in place and designated for the students pray, leading to complications that the students have to deal with.
I have been in schools that have considerable populations of Muslim students and asked the Principal what space the students are provided to pray in and given responses such as, "Oh whatever is available, they can do it in the library, or the commons area." Such an approach is obviously not thought out, has not considered or understood the various sensitivities that go along with praying at school as a Muslim student, and inevitably does not set students up for success.
Designating a space that is appropriate should not be overly complicated but very school environment is different and educators must know what needs to be in place and considers which are the following which are:
The space needs to be available during the prayer time.
This may be self evident, but schools need to be sure that the room is not cross scheduled with something else, and also that the prayer is not scheduled to be done in a space where an activity will be happening that might take too long and over run into the prayer time, or that will necessitate clean up that will run into the scheduled time. So if the prayer is scheduled to be done in the art room at 1:30, there should not be a clay moulding class going on in the art room up until 1:30. Such conflicts will leave the students who come to pray standing and bumbling around with their time unstructured and wasted and unproductive behaviors more likely to take place.
Enclosed and private is preferable.
As far as technicalities are concerned in Islam there is no preference as to whether their prayer is done in an enclosed place or one that is more open. Nevertheless, it is typical that people want privacy while they perform the prayers. Having other people around and in sight or being in a place where there are other passersby or people who may be socializing is distracting, uncomfortable, and especially with our self conscious adolescent students can make them feel awkward and therefore uncomfortable about doing their prayers. Choosing whether or not the prayer is done in an open area (such as a commons area in a high school) versus an enclosed classroom may be dictating by the number of students in the school who need to pray. If the numbers dictate that a larger area is needed, then it is fin.
Open and unintruded floor space is crucial.
If students are scheduled to pray during a certain time and arrive at a designated room and it is full of desks, tables, chairs, or other materials that need to be moved around in order to create the proper space for praying - then the objective of having the prayer done in a concise and efficient time frame has been sabotaged. Students will need to take time to move desks around or stack chairs before praying. Afterwards they will have to choose between taking more time to put everything back as they found or to be accused of being disrespectful for having come into a room to pray, changing the arrangement of everything, and then leaving without putting everything back as they found it. Some schools find this issue to be a little complicated. It is often the case high schools that every classroom is indeed full of desks and chairs. Elementary school classrooms are more likely to have an open floor space, but less likely to have students who are praying. Schools have found that Special Ed rooms, dance rooms, wrestling rooms, or other areas used for physical education can be serviceable for this purpose; but of course it all depends on scheduling availability also. Furthermore, if a physical education space is what is provided there will hopefully be a space where the surface in the area the students pray in is not entirely hard. There is nothing wrong with praying on a hard surface in Islam, but it is not exactly pleasant. Roll out rugs could be purchased and provided for the sake of setting up the prayer to accommodate this also.
It may be that there is not a perfect place to have set up for the students pray and the students themselves will have to do some set up in order to make the room proper. There is nothing wrong with that, but if it is the case then it needs to be taken into consideration when scheduling the amount of time the the students will have to pray, and expectations need to be made clear to the students as far as how the room is to be treated and rearranged upon leaving. And of course, all of this should be supervised.
The entry door should be preferably in the southwest corner of the room.
This is not absolutely necessary but there is several benefits to this if the room the students pray in is a smaller classroom where space will be tight. The direction in which students will face to pray (towards Mecca) will be northeast in the North America. We want someone to be in the room supervising them, but it will be unbecoming if that person is standing in front of the in the direction they are facing. Ideally, the person supervising the students who pray will be standing behind them as they perform the prayer. In many situations it will also be ideal that the person supervising the praying students will want to stand in the doorway, especially in middle and high school situations where there may be students coming to the prayer area from several different places, and therefore arriving in a staggered manner, and the supervisor will want to have both the hallway and the room in their field of vision. The person supervision should know the process of praying, so they know when the students actually begin the prayer (because it would be rude to interrupt it) and will know when it has officially ended so that they can then give verbal reminders of the time remaining to get back to class.
Ideally, there will be no pictures posted on the walls.
Of all the issues I have heard of and discussed with both educators and Muslim students alike I have never heard of the issue arising where a student complained that they could not pray in the room they were told to pray in because pictures of living things were posted. It is generally odd seeming to most non-Muslims but there is religious pretext to the understanding that prayers should not be done, and are indeed invalid, if they are done in a room where there is a picture of a living thing that has a face. If you ever visit a mosque you will never find one that has pictures posted in its prayer are, never. If the only room available is one where there are pictures this issue can be remedied by covering the pictures with a blank post-it note over the face. Furthermore, while this is an issue, I have never actually heard of students complaining about it, so it might be something a school administration is never prompted to worry about regarding the prayer of Muslim students. But I mention it here so you can know that if it does come up, it is not something the students are making up out of nowhere.
Praying in congregation and consequences for students
In Islamic jurisprudence it is dictated that the 5 obligatory prayers in Islam should be done in congregation, and only done individually when absolutely necessary. One problem when schools take an approach that just leaves it to each individual Muslim student to figure out on their own how, when, and where to go about doing their prayers during the school day is that it essentially denies them the chance to pray in congregation, and the viewpoint that praying in congregation is an essential component of the five daily prayers is the common viewpoint amongst Muslims with plenty of religious justification behind it.
Furthermore, while each school has its own context and dynamics, where there are schools with a sizable population of Muslim students, having them pray in one big group at one designated time, in one designated space ought to lead to the most efficiency, versus having the prayer be something dealt with by students individually and by their teaches on a case by case basis. Of course, if students do pray in congregation that is going to have all sorts of other implications because it will create a situation where students will be transitioning from one place to another en masse. This is why supervision is crucial. Expectations for hallway behavior should be clear and explicit, and there is religious edicts that dictate that approaching the prayer should be done in calm and quiet manner, consistent with the expectations schools typically want form their hallway behavior of students. This is not to say that it would be appropriate for schools to invoke the direction in setting expectations for students in their hallway behavior when transporting to and from the prayer. But the point is that expectations should be set and it should not turn into a time for raucous socializing or galavanting for students, and families ought to support the school in this. There should be a pass issuance system for students to be executed during the prayer times; for younger and pre adolescents it would be ideal that a staff member is assigned to go to rooms to excuse them from class with their pass, and then supervise those students in transport (preferably in a line). Otherwise hall monitors should be on guard and know and communicate clear expectations that students are to go nowhere but the bathroom and designated prayer area. In order to get a pass to pray students should have to sign on off on a contractual commitment to abide by behavior expectations whereby there right to participate in the communal prayer at school will be suspended for a period of time if they do not follow it. If a student asserts a religious right in school but in so doing they create a nuisance to the educational environment or use it to avoid their academic responsibilities then THE SCHOOL HAS THE RIGHT TO DENY THEM THE RIGHT THEY ARE ASSERTING. This is not to say that students should be reprimanded in such a way that if they make one error in conduct while going to pray they should be denied from praying ever again. But there should be code of conduct system and agreement that parties sign off on in place that is reasonable, respectful, and sets students up for success. If they misbehave once there should be a waring, if they do it twice they should be disallowed from joining the communal prayer the next day, if they do it a third day them maybe for two days, and so on. If the Muslim students en masse cause raucous and misbehavior in getting together for prayer then as a collective the privileges that the school afforded them should be denied for a time and commitments to positive behavior that were made before should be reaffirmed by all parties and expectations made clear for students at all times with supervision.