Dearborn schools don't serve food that is halal, or legal under Islamic faith, prompting thousands of parents to demand cafeteria food that matches the ethnic diversity in a city where some grade schools are more than 90 percent Muslim.
Parents are finally getting results: Officials are working on a plan that would bring halal food to several Dearborn schools by this fall.
''We have a system of food. This is very, very important to us,'' said Sheikh Jowad Al-Ansari, spiritual leader at the 5,000 member Islamic Institute of Knowledge. ''But children, when they are far away at school, how can you control what they eat?''
Halal laws are similar to kosher laws. Mainly, animals must be slaughtered in a specific fashion to cause the least pain to the animal, and the blood is drained. Like kosher Jews, Muslims do not eat pork products.
The lack of halal meat in Dearborn has forced scores of students to throw out non-halal lunches, school officials say. Others simply break the rules.
''My parents tell me, 'Don't eat it if it's not Halal,''' said Maha Alway, 10, a fifth-grader at Salinas Elementary School.
''Sometimes, when I'm hungry, I just eat it,'' Ghuzlan Mawry, 10, said with a smile.
Dearborn Public Schools is accepting proposals from Islamic food distributors to provide and oversee meats at several of its 28 public schools. The program is likely to be tested by this spring, and will go districtwide, barring problems, this fall, said Bob Cipriano, business manager for the district.
''The whole point is to give kids food they can eat, so they're nourished and can function in the classroom,'' Cipriano said. ''If we can do that financially, we're going to do it.''
The district currently provides meatless lunches for Roman Catholics on Fridays during Lent, Cipriano said. And eight years ago, the district banned pork from its lunches, so that Muslim children wouldn't accidentally eat it.
''We look at this as providing for our ethnic diversity,'' Cipriano said. ''We make concessions to all our ethnic populations, where and when we can.''
Dearborn, a Detroit suburb, has the highest concentration of ethnic Arabs outside the Middle East, according to the Arab-American Institute. About 35 percent of Dearborn's 17,000 students are Muslim.
Many of those students eat both breakfast and lunch at school, meaning their nutrition outside the home is limited.
''So much is thrown away,'' said Nada Harajli, assistant principal at Salinas. ''They revert to junk food, cookies and candy. Having halal meats would be good for everyone. We want our parents and our children to be comfortable with the schools.''
Samira Alasbahi, president of the Parent-Teacher-Student Organization at Salinas, said she won't stop fighting until halal meat is served.
''The children should get meat. They need iron and protein,'' Alasbahi said. ''The majority of parents here are Muslims, and they all want this. They don't want kids eating anything other than halal. The day is long, and the children need a full meal.''