We reported that many high school football games in Maryland and Illinois last week were played on Thursday instead of Friday, which was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Some schools in predominantly Jewish communities were even closed on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.
Furthermore, the so-called “winter break” has always included Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the octave, important Christian celebrations. “Spring break,” until recently, was always scheduled to include Good Friday, another Christian holiday.
Schools can’t close for any additional religious holidays, although accommodations are made whenever a significant drop in attendance is seen. In addition, schools usually count absences as excused when they’re taken for religious reasons.
But now, a coalition of groups in Montgomery County, Md., is calling on the state’s largest school district to close the schools, for either everybody or students only, on Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday that occurs this year on Oct 15, and on Eid al-Fitr, which is the last day of Ramadan but occurs, at least for the next three years, during the summer break, the Maryland Gazette reports.
Among the groups asking the district to reconsider its calendar are the Equality for Eid Coalition, which is sponsored by the Maryland chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations, and Jews United for Justice.
Rebecca Ennen, the development and communications manager for Jews United for Justice, told the Gazette that holidays are “crucial and central” to a religious group’s community and identity. “When those don’t get recognized, it’s a real negation of what our values are and what we stand for.”
Teachers are understanding about religious holidays, one group leader acknowledged, trying not to schedule exams or introduce new material on those days. Mimi Hassanein, outreach coordinator for the Islamic Society of Germantown, was quoted as saying, however, that policies vary “from school to school. It’s not set in stone.”
For the super high achievers
The idea of taking a day off to observe a religious holiday is certainly something that comes up, not only in Muslim households, but in Jewish and Christian households as well. The difference is that while schools are officially closed on the two biggest Christian and Jewish holidays, at least in Maryland, they are not officially closed on the Muslim high holy days.
That presents a problem for a kid who, say, is trying to get perfect attendance. Taking the Eid off would be an excused absence, but it’s still an absence. If, however, the school were closed on the Eid, the celebration of the holiday wouldn’t count against the student’s perfect attendance record.
Other students just feel obligated to go to school whenever they’re not sick, a feeling given to them by their parents. It’s not a bad idea to promote this kind of parental leadership, and we have just a small problem with making students choose between going to school and celebrating a religious holiday.
“It poses a conflict for people who want to exercise their right to religious observance,” Montgomery County Council member George L Leventhal was quoted in the Gazette as saying. If schools were open on a Jewish holiday like Rosh Hashanah, he speculated that “a substantial number” of Jewish students would attend classes.
School officials plan to take note of attendance this year on Eid al-Adha, but the board won’t take up the question of closing schools on the Eid until the fall of 2014. The coalition might have an uphill battle showing that a drop in attendance on the Eid compels the district to close school on that day. In the meantime, the excused absence policy seems like a good compromise.