Public schools in the US close to observe Christian holidays and now other religions are asking for equal time. Muslims want public schools closed for Islamic holidays, just like Christian holidays, reported the Christian Science Monitor on September 23. September 23 is Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice for Muslims. Greater Eid is a major holy day in the Islamic year. Administrators are considering whether or not to close school in observance of that feast day. In New Jersey, nearly 2 percent of the population identifies as followers of Islam. Some schools observe Muslim holidays and others don’t.
The school board in Jersey City, New Jersey against naming Eid al-Adha claiming it gave parents too little notice of the schedule change. Schools close randomly for snow days and parents manage to make arrangements, but still the board refused. Jersey City Schools Superintendent Marcia Lyles feels the discussion is important despite the outcome. She believes it reaffirms the community’s commitment to recognizing and honoring cultural and religious diversity. She vowed to continue to engage in the conversation. The board did promise that students would be excused if they were absent for religious reasons.
James Daly, the Board of Education president in Clifton, N.J. public schools was part of discussions to add Islamic holidays to the calendar. Daly objected to including Muslim observances to the school religious holiday list. “We have 67 different languages spoken in Clifton homes and we have many different ethnic groups, Once you start making accommodations for one group, where do you draw the line?” The district does close for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur–Jewish holy days. Most schools close for Christian holidays of Good Friday, Easter and Christmas. Although they have been absorbed into larger winter and spring break holidays, those breaks originated with Christian holy days.
New York, Illinois, Virginia and Michigan have large Muslim populations. Districts are dealing with Islam holiday closure questions. Illinois’s largest district, Chicago, doesn’t recognize any religious holidays. Another Illinois middle school did a controversial month-long Islamic immersion study. In March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made an historic announcement that New York City public schools would close for Greater Eid al-Adha and Lesser Eid al-Fitr (which ends Ramadan). Muslims say school closures signal acceptance of them and their faith.
Some have argued that categorically rejecting Muslims runs contrary to America’s constitutional promise of religious freedom for all. And that day is coming. Asian-Americans have been requesting observance of the Lunar New Year in schools. Hindus are pushing for recognition of Diwali. Those festivals are studied in schools. Some even host activities. But most school observances of Muslim holidays have been notably absent.