Should Muslims’ Eid be official school holiday?

By Barbara Simpson

As if school boards don’t have enough to worry about with academic issues, teacher issues, budgets and school safety – now, they have to deal with pressure to add Muslim holidays to school calendars.

I admit, I wasn’t aware of the issue until recently, when I learned that the San Francisco Board of Education had been pressured to move the dates of spring break to coordinate with the Muslim Eid-al-Fitr celebration.

It seems that last month, the board agreed to set next year’s spring break to match Eid. Now the Muslim groups are pressuring the board to designate the dates as a “holiday” – in other words, put it on the school calendar as days off for the celebration.

Such moves are not unique to the Bay Area. There are three counties in Florida that recognize it. Jersey City, New Jersey, made the move several years ago, and just this year, the Watchung Borough Board of Education in that state voted to close schools for the holiday. In Ohio, the Hilliard City School Board voted last year to include a day off for the Eid al-Fitr holiday when it falls on a school day.

According to American University professor Amaarah DeCuir, New York City was the first big-city school district to close schools for Eid, but, she says, smaller districts country-wide are doing the same and have been for more than 10 years. She’s quoted in The Conversation, “Those districts see the Muslims and their religious identities as part of the religious, pluralistic landscape in our country.”

There are two Eid celebrations for Muslims – Eid al-Fitr is early in the year and Eid al-Adha later in the year. The dates change regularly because they follow the Islamic lunar calendar.

In San Francisco, the school board is being pressured to make the change by a number of advocates, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and San Francisco’s Arab Resource & Organizing Center.

The advocates say the board decided last year to add the days to the calendar, but, they say, because of “experiencing significant backlash,” decided to put it on hold.

They want it reinstated and say they will continue their pressure until it is done.

According to DeCuir, most districts allow students to make up any work they miss during such holidays. In addition, it is asked that major assignments not be given to be due on the days of Eid.

She regards recognizing the holidays and closing schools “a greater act of equal recognition” that Eid is a “major world religious holiday.” She said that schools moving in this direction are doing it to “simply celebrate and promote the diversity within their school district.”

She did acknowledge that there are major economic issues that come with such decisions – such as the finances needed for substitute teachers and even additional bus drivers.

DeCuir says that the pressure to make such changes also comes from students in many cities. The students want to share their beliefs with their friends and others. They see the recognition of the holiday as a means to do that.

Professor De Cuir says that a group of eighth-graders in Bridgeport, Connecticut, got their school board to recognize the holiday as did a Muslim high school girl in Iowa City, Iowa.

In San Francisco, there is great grassroots support for the move.

Student Sara Ouchene wrote a petition advocating for school closure during Eid. She and her classmates got the petition through the city’s Human Rights Commission, which then recommended recognizing the holiday.

What happens next remains to be seen. City and district officials are aware of the pressure, but how the public at large feels about it remains to be seen. There is little controversy in local media, and I suspect that until that happens, no decision will be made.

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