Religion

Petition Tries to Get Equal Recognition of Muslim Holidays in Schools' Eyes

| by Alexander Rubinstein

A petition from 170 students in Maryland at Montgomery County’s Chevy Chase Elementary is urging the Board of Education to close schools for two Muslim holidays.

The petition begins: “Imagine having to take an exam on Christmas or Passover!”

“MCPS schools are closed on Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, and on Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Why not Eid?” the petition asks. Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr are the Muslim holidays that students are trying to get the schools to close for out of respect and fairness, The Washington Post reports.

The petition notes that Eid is a time for “prayer, visiting with family, feasting and gifts.” It argues that districts in at least four states close schools for those dates. “Our Muslim staff and students should have their important holiday treated the same as other religions,” the petition says.

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The school board got national attention when it decided to erase references to religious holidays from the 2015-2016 calendar instead of including Eid al-Adha. They voted 7 to 1 to include the holiday breaks, but not include the names of the holidays on the calendar.

The issue of listing the holidays on the calendar was brought up by the Maryland Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations in a partnership with the Equality for Eid Coalition. They want Montgomery schools to list the Muslim holidays as days off, like the Christian and Jewish ones, Patch reports.

A fifth grader from Bethesda, Eleanor Clemans-Cope, 11, has led an effort to spur the change to get the holidays recognized by Montgomery’s 202 schools.

In an email accompanying the petition, she described the school board’s move to remove religious references from the calendar as a “ridiculous sham because Christian and Jewish kids still get their most important holidays off — they are just not marked.”

Eleanor said she wants the holidays to get equal respect. “I felt like it was important to give other cultures their days off,” she said.

Jody L. Smith, the principal of Chevy Chase Elementary, said Eleanor researched the issue extensively and talked with those affected by it, including a school staff member. “I’m really proud of her for trying to follow her beliefs,” Smith said.

School officials say students who miss classes for the Muslim holiday get excused absences. They also encourage teachers not to give tests on those days.

The school board says it does not have the authority to close schools for religious holidays. It needs to have evidence of high absenteeism or other operational effects to give the days off.

So far, the petition has gained 170 signatures, mostly from fifth- and sixth-grade students. It has since been passed along to elected officials.

Sources: The Washington Post, Bethseda-Chevy Chase Patch
Photo Source: Flickr