Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

School Board Decision Disappoints Equality 4 Eid Supporters

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

School Board Decision Disappoints Equality 4 Eid Supporters

Article excerpt

My hands-down favorite 4th of July celebration-eclipsing fireworks on the National Mall as well as iconic small-town parades-was a barbecue at a Montgomery County, MD mosque. Eating hotdogs, burgers and corn-on-the-cob alongside local police, teachers, elected officials, as well as Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Muslim neighbors, made me proud of this nation's rich cultural mosaic.

I thought I was about to participate in another all-American feel-good experience on Nov. 11, as I joined a standing-room-only crowd filling a Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education hearing in Rockville, MD.

The room buzzed with excitement as the MCPS school board met to vote on adding Eid al-Adha to the 2015 school calendar. The Equality 4 Eid coalition had requested that the Islamic holiday be given equal billing on the calendar with the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, noting that the two fall on the same day in 2015. Montgomery County schools are closed on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Christmas Eve and Christmas, Good Friday, the day after Easter, as well as nonreligious holidays.

Last year the school board had denied the Muslim community's request to recognize at least one Muslim holy day, but this time around, after a year of news conferences, meetings, letters and interviews, Equality 4 Eid supporters hoped for success.

The school system currently recognizes Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha by declaring them district-wide non-testing days and giving Muslim students excused absences. Parents testified that teachers do schedule quizzes, tests and homework assignments on Islamic holidays, and their children who choose to stay home miss classroom instruction time and are ineligible for perfect attendance awards.

There are an approximately 7 million Muslims in the U.S., and about 250,000 in the Washington, DC area. Lily Qi, the county's liaison to Asian and Middle Eastern communities, estimates that about 6 percent of the county is Muslim, although she admits there is no way to accurately measure that data because the U.S. census does not track religion.

Six American school systems with large Muslim populations close down for Eid: Burlington, VT; Cambridge, MA; Dearborn, MI; Paterson, NJ; Skokie, IL; and Trenton, NJ. Would Maryland be next?

As each school board member spoke, much of the excitement and air was sucked out of the room. …

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