From 2015 onwards, the names of religious holidays like Yom Kippur and Christmas will no longer appear on the school calendar of another school district in Maryland. Instead of a Christmas break, students in Montgomery County will now have a winter break and when Yom Kippur is round the corner, the school calendar will simply call for a holiday. This revised calendar will not affect the number of days that students receive off and they will still be privy to holidays on Rosh Hashanah and Easter.
Montgomery County’s Board of Education reached this decision on November 11 after concluding that schools should not shut down for religious reasons but secular ones, such as a high level of absenteeism among teachers and students. Reportedly, the decision was also made amid a push from Muslim leaders in the community who wanted to see their faith holidays on the school calendar as well.
Even though Muslim students, who need to miss school because of religious observances, receive excused absences from Montgomery County schools, faith leaders said Eid al-Adha too, deserved to be recognized by authorities just like other Jewish and Christian observances.
“Currently, the thousands of Muslim staff and students (within Montgomery County Public Schools) have to choose between their education and observing their religious practices,” says a statement on the website of the Equality for Eid Coalition, which has been advocating for Montgomery County to close school on Muslim holidays. “They either skip school (an excused absence) to celebrate Eids or they skip their religious observances to attend school. Many choose to do the latter. However, this is not a choice that, for the most part, our Christian and Jewish neighbors face on their high holidays.”
However, the coalition was taken by surprise when the Board of Education decided to scrub off all religious holidays from its school calendar.
“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality,” said Saqib Ali, co-chairman of the Equality for Eid Coalition. “It's a pretty drastic step, and they did it without any public notification.”
But, board member Rebecca Smondrowski believes this to be the most equitable option. In fact, Montgomery County is not the first school district to remove the names of religious holidays from its calendar. Baltimore City Public Schools in Maryland took a similar step sometime earlier.
Tracey Pettingill, resident of Baltimore County, said she was unhappy with the school district’s decision.
“I believe religion is what holds our nation together, and I think it's the glue that keeps our society together, whether you're religious or not,” she said.
Her son Devon Jones said the decision was Baltimore’s attempt at trying to appear politically correct.
“They're trying to be politically correct so they don't offend anybody,” he said. “But let's be real here; they're going to offend a few people. People always get offended.”
Photo Credits: Wikimedia