Montgomery Co. ed board strips religious holiday references from new calendar

Posted on November 12, 2014

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Wednesday – 11/12/2014, 5:18am  ET

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Equality for Eid was not happy with the MCPS’ decision. (WTOP File Photo)

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ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County Public Schools will remove religious labels from school holidays, but members of the Islamic community say the adjustments to the school calendar do nothing to gain parity and a day off for the Muslim holiday of Eid.

The school board approved the school calendar for the 2015-2016 school year Tuesday. The calendar will no longer reference specific religious holidays but rather state simply that school will be closed on dates that correspond with holidays, such as Eid, Yom Kippur and Christmas.

Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of Equality for Eid, was not happy with the board of education’s action Tuesday.

“Equality is really what we’re looking for,” Ali said. “Simply saying we’re not going to call this Christmas, and we’re not going to call this Yom Kippur, and still closing the schools, that’s not equality.”

School board members said they were sympathetic to the desire to have Eid recognized and close schools but that legal precedent in Maryland bars them from closing for religious purposes.

“We can’t close for religious holidays. We can only close for operational purposes,” like high absenteeism, school spokesman Dana Tofig said.

That explanation doesn’t sit well with Zainab Chaudry, with the Council on American Islamic Relations.

“What’s really concerning to us is that similar conditions weren’t placed on any other faith community,” Chaudry says.

In the 1970s school officials decided to close on Jewish holidays because of high absenteeism.

But school board member Michael Durso said that the schools effectively close for a religious reason: the schools had high absenteeism because of a religious holiday in the community.

Noting the attempt to move away from favoring religions by instead referring to school days off as “winter break” and “student holidays,” Durso said as long as the Islamic community’s concern for parity wasn’t somehow addressed “it comes off as insensitive, and I just think we cannot afford to be in that light”.

That drew applause from parents who filled the seats in the board of education’s meeting room.

The adoption of the 2015-2016 school calendar does give students the day off on Eid but only because it happens to fall on another school holiday, Yom Kippur.

Several school board members, Chris Barclay, Judy Docca and Michael Durso, made it clear that they want to see a permanent policy change but that discussion would continue.

Board member Judy Docca acknowledged Tuesday’s action does little to satisfy a community that’s been waiting for years to see a change.

“We’re kicking the can down the road,” Docca said.

But Docca said until the board can find a legal way around the issue, the waiting would continue.

Muslim parents say their children get a clear message from the Montgomery County school system that they are second-class citizens.

That’s how Abdul Shaikh sees it. He has two kids in Montgomery County Schools and said it’s painful to explain to his American-born kids that public schools choose a holiday policy that gives off for Christmas and Yom Kippur, but not Eid.

“How am I supposed to explain it to them?” Shaikh said

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