Schools ax religious holiday names
By Breeanna Hare, CNN
updated 9:02 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
- Montgomery County will remove names of religious holidays from the school calendar
- It was done to emphasize that schools close for secular reasons, not religious
- The decision was made in light of a push from Muslim leaders to see their holidays included
(CNN) — Starting next year, the names of religious holidays like Christmas and Yom Kippur will no longer appear on the school calendar in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Instead of Christmas break, students will have winter break. And when Yom Kippur rolls around, the calendar will simply state that there will be no school.
This new calendar won’t affect the days students have off, and they’ll still be out of class on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Christmas and Easter weekend. It’s just that the names of religious holidays won’t appear on the school calendar.
The county’s Board of Education made this decision Tuesday, pointing out that schools don’t close for religious reasons but for secular ones, such as high absenteeism among students and teachers.
The decision also arrived amid a push from leaders in the Muslim community to see their faith’s holidays, such as Eid al-Adha, get the same treatment from Montgomery County schools as the Christian and Jewish observances.
Though students who need to be absent because of religious reasons do receive excused absences, Muslim leaders have argued that’s unequal treatment.
“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.”
Plus, there’s the question of equality. “Sometimes I don’t like it because everybody gets their days off and whenever I have celebrations, I don’t get off,” 9-year-old student Mussa Siddique told CNN affiliate WBFF.
That said, the Board of Education’s decision to scrub the school calendar of all religious holiday names isn’t what the coalition was hoping to see.
“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality,” Saqib Ali, a co-chairman of the Equality for Eid Coalition, told The Washington Post. “It’s a pretty drastic step, and they did it without any public notification.”
But to board member Rebecca Smondrowski, who also spoke with the Post, “this seems the most equitable option.”
Montgomery County isn’t the first district to remove the names of religious holidays from its school calendar; Maryland’s Baltimore City Public Schools have done something similar.
One parent in Baltimore County, Tracey Pettingill, told WBFF that she disagrees with Montgomery County’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,” Pettingill said.
Her son, Devon Jones, saw it as an attempt at political correctness.
“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.”