Proposed Montgomery Co. calendar guidelines cover religious absences

ROCKVILLE, Md.– Montgomery County school board members are working on a set of guidelines for their school calendar after controversy over the removal of religious names from school holidays.

“Montgomery County Public Schools close on Jewish and Christian holidays, even though they’re no longer stated as such on the calendar,” said Zainab Chaudry of the Council on American-Islamic Relations at a Board of Education meeting. “Schools are still closed on these holidays, but they’re not closed on Muslim holidays.”

The proposed school calendar guidelines would continue to avoid mentioning religion, but close schools on days when 15 percent of students and staff would likely be absent. Chaudry says that percentage effectively cements school closings on Jewish and Christian holidays, while excluding Muslim holidays and holidays celebrated by those of other faiths.

“The board felt that there was a need to clarify what our process is,” says County Schools Spokesman Dana Tofig. He says that school closings are an “operational decision” which is “separate from religious belief,” since too many absences at one time would be disruptive.

Maryland law already dictates closings around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, and the observance of a religious holiday is considered an excused absence.

Tofig says accommodations are made for those who must miss class.

“On the Eid holidays we don’t have any district-wide testing, we encourage our teachers and our schools not to give tests or to have important assignments due that day.”

He says students must be given ample opportunity to make up their schoolwork.

Says Tofig, “students cannot be penalized for participating in their religion.”

Chaudry says she hopes to discuss the issue with the school board, which will consider the calendar guidelines next month.

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