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Board of Education Votes to Close Schools for Muslim Holiday

November 11, 2015

 

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted yesterday, Nov. 10, to close school for Montgomery County Public School students on Sept. 12, 2016, which coincides with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The Board’s vote will make Sept. 12 a professional day for staff in the proposed 2016-2017 school year calendar.

   The change in the proposed calendar was approved on a 6-2, vote with Board members Michael Durso, Christopher Barclay, Jill Ortman-Fouse, Rebecca Smondrowski, Judy Docca and Eric Guerci voting in favor. Board members Phil Kauffman and President Patricia O’Neill voted against making Sept. 12, 2016, a professional day.

   During the holiday of Eid al-Adha, or Festival of Sacrifice, Muslims commemorate and remember the trials and triumphs of the Prophet Abraham. It is the same story which is in the Judeo-Christian scriptures of God ,or Yahweh—as Jews and Christians refer to him—or Allah in the Muslim culture, asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Abraham showed God that he was willing to make such a sacrifice in God’s name, and Allah revealed to him that the “sacrifice” had been fulfilled by Abraham’s willingness to submit to God’s will and Abraham’s son was spared.

   The holiday marks the end of the Hajj, which is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The Hajj is one of the five Pillars of Islam. All Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage once in lifetime. Most Muslims use the day as an opportunity to visit elderly family members, pay respects to relatives who have passed away, and hold feasts with extended family.

   The Board has requested that MCPS staff explore the options for making this change by adjusting the proposed calendar of professional days, which includes five preservice professional days, as well as four professional days distributed throughout the year. The school calendar is based on 184 instructional days for students and 193 duty days for teachers.

   “MCPS is an extremely diverse county and our students and staff celebrate a wide variety of religious and cultural holidays,” said Patricia O’Neill, BOE president. “I hope that today’s decision highlights the Board’s ongoing commitment to respect this diversity and work with the community to ensure that there is a fair and equitable process for determining when it is appropriate for MCPS to close schools. ”

   Student Member of the Board Eric Guerci, said the following on Twitter regarding his decision to vote in favor of the change, “Equality has always been who we are, and as our demographics change we must transcend diversity to come together as a student body in setting the stage for generations to come.” Guerci, is a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

   The Board deferred passage of the 2016-2017 school year calendar until December 8, 2015, to give the district’s staff time to explore the options to accommodate the Board’s decision to close school for students on Sept. 12.

   “Many members of our community have respectfully asked for this holiday for many years and I believe that today’s decision is just the right thing to do,” said Michael Durso, vice president of the Board. “I am confident that our staff can make this professional day a very valuable one that serves our educational interests and enables us to continue to improve as a district, while allowing our students this day to spend with their families.”

   Last month, the Board of Education adopted a new school calendar policy, Policy IDA, which codified the Board’s procedure for determining when schools close and open, consistent with the operational needs and educational interests of the district.

   In addition, MCPS created two new tools to demonstrate its commitment to respecting the cultural and religious diversity in our community. A new calendar tool provides an easy to way to see all of the Montgomery County “Days of Commemoration” on the calendar. The “Days of Commemoration” webpage was created by Montgomery County to include the major religious and cultural celebrations of the county’s faith traditions. MCPS released a new publication in August that answers many frequently asked questions about accommodations that allow students to observe and participate in religious holidays and traditions in school and during school-sponsored events.

   The publication, Guidelines for Respecting Religious Diversity, was developed in partnership with members of the Montgomery County Executive’s Faith Working Group, which includes representatives from several different religious and cultural organizations. It is available in nine languages on the MCPS website.

   Students who miss school to celebrate a holiday on a day that MCPS is not closed are granted an excused absence and are given an opportunity to make up any work. Major religious holidays on which MCPS schools are open are designated “no testing days” districtwide. Teachers are encouraged not have major tests or major project deadlines on such days. 

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