A Maryland school district has taken Christmas off its calendar altogether after receiving requests from Muslim leaders to acknowledge their holidays as well.
The decision came in the form of at 7-1 vote last week from the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Board of Education. All references to religious celebrations were taken off the calendar for 2015-2016.
“We were blindsided. We are disappointed,” Zainab Chaudry, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Yahoo News Wednesday. “It isn’t what we asked for. We don’t believe that other faith groups should be punished for our request.”
All schools in the district will continue to be closed for major Jewish and Christian holidays due to the high volume of absentees. Montgomery spokesman Dana Tofig said the decision to close on those days is not in observance of the holidays. Tofig went on to say that schools need a “secular, operational reason” for school closures.
“A decision was made 40 years ago based on high absenteeism among students and staff to close on days like Rosh Hashanah,” he said. “It’s important to note that we cannot close school for religious reasons.”
Schools will now be closed for “winter break” in December, “spring break” at Easter, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be listed as “no school” days.
“This decision was made to emphasize that the decision to close school on a particular day is based on operational matters — such as high staff and student absenteeism — and not for religious or cultural reasons,” the district said in a statementafter the meeting.
However, activists view the move as a statement from the school that they would rather not observe any religious holidays than to include Muslim holidays.
“I think this really shows that the Board of Education would take drastic measures to ensure that the Muslim students don’t receive equal and fair treatment,” Chaudry said.
CAIR and other Muslim activists have been working for over a decade to have Muslim holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha added to the school calendar. The two are major holidays for the religion, with Eid al-Fitr, “feast of fast breaking,” marking the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha showing the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj.
Next year, Yom Kippur will fall on the same date as Eid al-Fitr, yet the district was only planning on mentioning Yom Kippur under its reasons for closing the school. CAIR requested that the Muslim holiday be referenced as well.
According to Tofig, because the Muslim population is not high enough to show significant absenteeism on their holidays, the board decided to do away with all religious holiday references, citing the nearby Fairfax County school system who does the same.
While Montgomery County is often viewed as the most inclusive in the state, Chaudry, a native of Maryland, does not feel the same, stating,” We feel like our students are being treated like second-class citizens.”