A reader sends in this story about a Maryland school board that stripped the name of Jewish and Christian holidays from its official calendar. The reason? Read on:
The 7-1 decision by the Montgomery County’s Board of Education on Tuesday came after Muslim leaders in the community asked that equal recognition be given to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha.
School still will be closed for the Christian and Jewish holidays and students will get the same days off. School will remain open for the Muslim holiday.
Muslim leaders say they’re not pleased with the result. They didn’t want religious labels removed from the other holidays, just for Muslim students to be treated equally and to have their own holiday recognized.
At first I thought that this was an extraordinarily petty gesture of insult to the Muslims. But it turns out that there is a rationale behind it. CAIR partnered with Muslim parents in that school district to demand that the schools close on the Islamic holiday of Eid. The school district declined, saying that there aren’t enough Muslim students in the system to justify closing all the schools for the day. Christian and Jewish holidays are recognized because, they say, there were so many absences on those days. More:
The school system said it does offer excused absences for students on religious holidays that fall on school days and makes teachers aware of numerous holidays so they are able to plan tests and other activities around them.
County officials insist that they look at the issue not as a religious one, but as a secular one, noting that closures are approved for days on which a large number of students or teachers would be affected.
Montgomery County Public Schools have closed for the Jewish high holidays since the 1970s because of the county’s large Jewish population in the county would create a high absenteeism rate in the county.
County officials say the size of the county’s Muslim population doesn’t warrant closing schools.
“High absenteeism is the main reason” for schools being closed on the Jewish high holidays, said Dana Tofig with Montgomery County Public Schools. “The absentee rate on the Eid holidays, when they’ve fallen on a school day, haven’t been considerably higher or lower than it is on any other given day.”
If it’s true that a) there aren’t enough Muslim students in the system to justify closing its 200 schools for Eid, and b) the school system offers excused absences to Muslim students who miss those days, then that seems to me to be a reasonable compromise. I’m an Orthodox Christian whose church follows the Old Calendar, which makes our Nativity feast come in early January, around the time most kids are back in school from the Christmas break. It would be unreasonable for me to expect a school system to shut the whole system down for the day to accommodate my family’s religious beliefs when so few families within the school district observe the holiday. A reasonable accommodation, it seems to me, is what the school system is offering: excused absences. If the school board gave the Muslim parents what they wanted, even though there is no compelling operational reason (e.g., too many absences) for it, then they would open themselves to having to do the same thing for any small religious minority in the county.
Judging from the outside, this sounds less like something Muslim parents need and something they want to make a statement about equity. I could be wrong. If you know more about the situation, please weigh in.
I understand why the Muslim group is unhappy, because not only did it not get what it wanted, it also achieved something it did not want: the removal of Jewish and Christian holidays from the county’s calendar. But the school board’s decision, however legalistic, may well be the best temporary solution to avoid litigation. A board member said that if the system is shutting down on Jewish and Christian holidays for operational reasons, then it should disconnect those school closures from religion. It’s ridiculous, but I can see the logic in it. So, CAIR wins a round in the War on Christmas (and Yom Kippur). Ah, the holidays are upon us already…