Maryland school district strikes Christmas from calendar after requests for religious equality

Michael Walsh
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Christmas will no longer be on next year’s school calendar for a Maryland school district – after requests from local Muslim leaders to also acknowledge their holidays.

Montgomery County Public Schools’ Board of Education voted 7 to 1 on Tuesday to strike all references to religious celebrations for 2015-2016.

“We were blindsided. We are disappointed,” Zainab Chaudry, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Yahoo News Wednesday.

“It isn’t what we asked for. We don’t believe that other faith groups should be punished for our request.”

As in previous years, all schools in the district will be closed on the major Jewish and Christian holidays because those days show a high number of absenteeism – not in observance of those celebrations, according to Montgomery spokesman Dana Tofig.

“This is similar to what many districts across the country do,” Tofig said to Yahoo News. “They refer to winter break as winter break and spring break as spring break.”

Tofig explains that the district must have a “secular, operational reason” for closing schools.

“A decision was made 40 years ago based on high absenteeism among students and staff to close on days like Rosh Hashanah,” he said. “It’s important to note that we cannot close school for religious reasons.”

But to many activists, it appears the school would rather get rid of religious observances altogether than bring Muslim holidays into the fold.

“I think this really shows that the Board of Education would take drastic measures to ensure that the Muslim students don’t receive equal and fair treatment,” Chaudry said.

For several years, CAIR and other Muslim activists have asked the district to add Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha to the school calendar.

“This is something that the community has been working for for over a decade,” she added. “We have been working hard to raise awareness.”

Eid ul-Fitr, or the “feast of fast breaking,” marks the end of Ramadan and Eid ul-Adha falls at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj. They are major holidays for Islam.

Next year, the latter and Yom Kippur will fall on the same date: September 23rd. But Montgomery schools were only going to reference Yom Kippur for the closure.

So CAIR requested “politely but firmly” for Eid ul-Adha to be mentioned as part of the reason.

However, Tofig says, absenteeism on Muslim holidays is not significantly higher than any other day. This led to simply scrapping spirituality the equation.

Montgomery County is often touted as the state’s most inclusive but Chaudry, a Maryland native, says this clearly is not the case.

“We feel like our students are being treated like second-class citizens,” she said.