After years of debate, schools in Montgomery County, Maryland have decided to close for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha beginning on September 12, 2016.
The decision came as the result of a calendar change suggestion by board member Christopher Barclay. A professional work day for teachers and administrators was moved to September 12 to accommodate the shift. The district currently has 5 teacher workdays before the start of the school year, with an additional 4 during the year.
District staff members are expected to report back to the board with a proposal as to which of these days would be changed to September 12, writes Donna St. George for The Washington Post.
"We are putting ourselves in a place that we give lip service to the diversity that we have in this incredible community that we live in and serve — but in fact, the most important things are the actions that we take," Barclay told his colleagues.
Montgomery County School Board President Patricia O'Nell did not want to make the change at first, arguing that September 11, a Sunday, had been designated for Eid al-Adha by the Maryland State Board of Education calendar. O'Nell went on to say that any changes to that calendar could result in the entire year being extended, which could cause the year to end on a Monday. "I'm not willing to do that," she said.
Just two members voted against the move — O'Nell and Phil Kauffman — who argued that he would prefer to have a clear plan in place for next year. It is unclear if Eid al-Adha will begin on September 11 or 12 next year.
County resident Saqib Ali, who has daughters in the school system, said he was thrilled that the board members "did the right thing" and went ahead with the decision. He added that the change brought equality to the schools.
Ali went on to say that the debate, which had been ongoing for years in a county which is home to over 1 million residents, had its roots in institutional racism. The Muslim community have pushed to receive the same treatment as Christian and Jewish citizens.
The district already shuts down for major Christian and Jewish holidays. School officials argue that this is due to either state requirements or expectations of large amounts of student absentees on those days.
The county made national headlines last year when, in an effort to show neutrality, the school system took all religious holidays off of the calendar.
Similar efforts were made in New York last year when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the addition of two major Muslim holidays to the public schools calendar, calling the decision "a matter of fairness," reports Michael Grynbaum for The New York Times.
"When these holidays are recognized, it's a sign that Muslims have a role in the political and social fabric of America," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Several other municipalities have also changed their calendars to include the holy days of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, including Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey.