New York City Schools to Observe Muslim Holidays

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New York City school officials have announced that public schoolchildren will now observe two Muslim holidays starting in the 2015-16 school year, making the largest district in the nation one of a select few to observe Islamic holy days.

The change, announced by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and city Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, will see schools close on September 24 for Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, in addition to closing for Eid al-Fitr, the festival that celebrates the end of the month of Ramadan, writes Greg Botelho for CNN.

“This is a common-sense change,” de Blasio said Wednesday, “and one that recognizes our growing Muslim community and honors its contributions to our city.”

There are currently about 1 million students in the New York City public schools district.  It is not clear how many of those students are Muslim, but it is believed that about 1 million of the 8 million people who live within the five boroughs of the city consider themselves Muslim.  A Columbia University study completed in 2009 stated that about 10% of public school students in the district are Muslim.

De Blasio had previously promised to change the school calendar to benefit Muslim families during his campaign for mayor, so the change come as no surprise.  The policy had been approved in 2009, but then-mayor Michael Bloomberg did not implement it.

“We made a pledge to families that we would change our school calendar to reflect the strength and diversity of our city. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim families will no longer have to choose between honoring the most sacred days on their calendar or attending school. This is a common sense change, and one that recognizes our growing Muslim community and honors its contributions to our City,”

Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, praised the policy, calling it “a win for our children and for future generations in this country.”

“Muslims are a part of the fabric of this country,” she said. “We make our country proud, and today, New York City made us proud.”

Other states, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Vermont, already observe Muslim holidays in their school calendars.

Despite this, the Board of Education in Montgomery County in Maryland chose not to observe Muslim holidays, arguing that it does not close school for any religious holidays.  Schools in the district close for Christian and Jewish holidays due to a reportedly high percentage of absenteeism on those days rather than because they are religious holidays.  Religious holidays are not named on the academic calendar for the district, reports Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post.

New York City schools already close for major Christian and Jewish holidays.