Watchung adds Eid al-Fitr as school holiday: 'One giant leap for minorities nationwide'
WATCHUNG – The Board of Education has approved the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr as a day off for students and a professional development day for staffers in 2024.
"The calendar that was revised by the curriculum committee recognizes April 10 as Eid al-Fitr," said Amber Murad, board president. "What happens is that we’re going to have – the suggestion came forward to have it as a professional development day, a day which is closed for students. The original calendar had Oct. 11, a Tuesday, as a professional development day and that day is moved to April 10 in next year’s calendar."
At the Jan. 24 school board meeting, several students and parents spoke in favor of the calendar change and welcomed the decision to mark April 10, 2024, as the Eid holiday.
The decision came after nearly two years of lobbying by students and parents.
Last spring, Noora Kuran, a Watchung Hills Regional High School sophomore and co-founder of the high school's Interfaith Coalition, created a survey of student sentiment about having school off on Eid and Diwali.
According to Kuran, more than 98% of the 400 students favored having schools closed on the holidays.
"The win in Watchung and Warren is one small step for Watchung Hills and one giant leap for minorities nationwide," Kuran said. "I hope that what we’ve accomplished inspires others to do the same. It is beautiful to see our hard work for the last few years pay off."
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Diwali also was mentioned as being added to future calendars, but in the 2023-24 calendar year, the holiday falls on Sunday, Nov. 12. In 2024, the holiday takes place on Friday, Nov. 1.
Also at the Jan. 24 meeting, there was a proposal to add three additional holidays − Juneteenth, Lunar Chinese New Year and Orthodox Christian Good Friday − to the calendar and extend the 2023-24 school year by a week from June 14 to June 21. The proposal did not pass but was sent back to the curriculum committee for further study.
A separate survey had asked for thoughts on having schools closed for Eid, Diwali, Juneteenth, Orthodox Christian Good Friday and Lunar Chinese New Year.
"Including Eid in the 2023-2024 calendar is a victory for educational inclusion and for Muslim students who have long advocated for this necessary accommodation," said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) Outreach Coordinator Zaid Hussein. "We are hopeful that Watchung Region High School will follow suit and give their Muslim students the opportunity to balance their academic obligations with religious duties."
Hussain added that while designating Eid as a professional development day for staff is "a step in the right direction," CAIR-NJ hopes to see the Watchung Board of Education "move in the direction of adopting Eid as a permanent calendar holiday instead in the future."
The Watchung Borough School District serves more than 600 students in pre-K through eighth grade in two schools.
Students in higher grades attend Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, which has yet to decide on a separate Eid holiday.
Recently parents, students and local organization leaders asked that Eid be added to the East Brunswick school calendar. Board members said they would investigate the issue. Several community members said they had been asking for the holiday as a day off for students for 10 years.
There are two Eid holidays. The first − Eid al-Fitr − comes after the month-long observance of Ramadan, when observant Muslims pray and fast for 30 days. The second − Eid al-Adha − is celebrated on the 10th day of the 12th Islamic month and is associated with the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Eid festivities include congregational prayer, often early in the morning, gatherings with family and friends, as well as gifts and entertainment, particularly centered around children.
Because the occurrence of Eid depends on the sighting of the new moon, the exact date can only be determined with certainty the night before.
Almost 30 New Jersey school districts, including Monroe, South Brunswick and West Windsor-Plainsboro, already recognize Eid on their school calendars. There are more than 100 mosques in the state and at 3% − the highest percentage of Muslim residents in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.
Typically, celebrating Eid requires that Muslims take at least one day off from school. Attendance in school does not allow the student to fully participate in their religious holiday and conversely, an absence creates stress in the form of missed academic time, schoolwork and sometimes tests to make up.
Cheryl Makin is an award-winning features and education reporter for MyCentralJersey.com, part of the USA Today Network. Contact: Cmakin@gannettnj.com or @CherylMakin. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Watchung NJ adds Eid al-Fitr as school holiday