Montgomery Co. ed board strips religious holiday references from new calendar

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ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County Public Schools will remove religious
from school holidays, but members of the Islamic community say the adjustments
the school calendar do nothing to gain parity and a day off for the Muslim
holiday of Eid.

The school board approved the school calendar for the 2015-2016 school year
Tuesday. The calendar will no longer reference specific religious holidays but
rather state simply that school will be closed on dates that correspond with
holidays, such as Eid, Yom Kippur and Christmas.

Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of Equality for Eid,
not happy with the board of education’s action Tuesday.

“Equality is really what we’re looking for,” Ali said. “Simply saying we’re
going to call this Christmas, and we’re not going to call this Yom Kippur, and
still closing the schools, that’s not equality.”

School board members said they were sympathetic to the desire to have Eid
recognized and close schools but that legal precedent in Maryland bars them
closing for religious purposes.

“We can’t close for religious holidays. We can only close for operational
purposes,” like high absenteeism, school spokesman Dana Tofig said.

That explanation doesn’t sit well with Zainab Chaudry, with the Council on
American Islamic Relations.

“What’s really concerning to us is that similar
conditions weren’t placed on any other faith community,” Chaudry says.

In the 1970s school officials decided to close on Jewish holidays because of
high absenteeism.

But school board member Michael Durso said that the schools effectively close
a religious reason: the schools had high absenteeism because of a religious
holiday in the community.

Noting the attempt to move away from favoring religions by instead referring
school days off as “winter break” and “student holidays,” Durso said as long
the Islamic community’s concern for parity wasn’t somehow addressed “it comes
as insensitive, and I just think we cannot afford to be in that light”.

That drew applause from parents who filled the seats in the board of
meeting room.

The adoption of the 2015-2016 school calendar does give students the day off
Eid but only because it happens to fall on another school holiday, Yom Kippur.

Several school board members, Chris Barclay, Judy Docca and Michael Durso,
made it
clear that they want to see a permanent policy change but that discussion

Board member Judy Docca acknowledged Tuesday’s action does little to satisfy a
community that’s been waiting for years to see a change.

“We’re kicking the can
down the road,” Docca said.

But Docca said until the board can find a legal way around the issue, the
would continue.

Muslim parents say their children get a clear message from the Montgomery
school system that they are second-class citizens.

That’s how Abdul Shaikh sees it. He has two kids in Montgomery County Schools
said it’s painful to explain to his American-born kids that public schools
a holiday policy that gives off for Christmas and Yom Kippur, but not Eid.

“How am I supposed to explain it to them?” Shaikh said.

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WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @kateryanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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