06 March 2015

NYC adds Muslim holidays to school calendar

Beginning with the 2015-2016 academic year, two Muslim holy days - Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha - will be added to the calendar of New York City's public schools by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who in doing so has fulfilled one of his campaign promises.

The New York Times reports that New York City is not the first school district to do so, though it is the largest:
At least six school districts nationally, including Cambridge, Mass.; Dearborn, Mich.; Burlington, Vt.; and Paterson and South Brunswick, N.J., have granted days off for the major Muslim holidays. Many more districts recognize the holidays in other ways, such as noting them on the school calendar or granting excused absences for observant students.
But there has also been pushback. In November, education officials in Montgomery County, Md., reacted to a local campaign to recognize the Muslim holidays by deciding to eliminate all mention of religious holidays on their 2015-16 school calendar, including Rosh Hashana and Christmas. Instead, those days would be simply marked as days off.
I am not opposed to adding the holy days of religions other than Christianity or Judaism to school calendars and I wonder a bit why this took so long to happen, especially given the number of students of the Muslim faith in New York City's schools. As the New York Times goes on to report:
In New York, a group of Muslims has spent nine years pressing for inclusion on the city’s school calendar, which already recognizes several Jewish and Christian holidays. Muslims make up about 10 percent of the student body in the city’s public schools, according to a 2008 study by Columbia University.
The public schools of New York City have not previously gone so far as to remove all mention of religious holidays from their calendars, but according to the calendar for the 2014-2015 academic year, schools were closed for Rosh Hashanah but the students did not have a "Christmas Break" this past year. Instead, they had a "Winter Recess (including Christmas and New Year's Day)." What is more, the students will not have an "Easter Break" next month, but a "Spring Recess (including Good Friday, Easter and Passover)." 

Although there is a holiday granted under an explicitly Jewish name, no such holiday is granted under an explicitly Christian name. It seems unclear at this point as to whether the students in New York City will explicitly have the two Muslim holy days free or if they will be subsumed under some other name, as has been done with the Christian holy days of Christmas and Easter and with the Jewish holy day Passover.

Curiously, the New York Times does not explain the origins, history, or customs associated with either of the Muslim holidays on which the schools will be closed. Nor does it explain why these two particular days were chosen against other Muslim holy days.

Eid al-Fitr is a feast day marking the end of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha commemorates Abraham's readiness to sacrifice Isaac. It does seem customary on either of these feast days to take a day off, as Christians customarily do - or at least once did - on Christmas and Easter.

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