According to The New York Times, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that the city’s public schools will be closed in observance of the Muslim holy days of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. New York City will be the first major metropolitan school system in the nation to observe the holy days. However, a number of school districts nationwide, including municipalities in Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey, have added the Muslim holy days to their school calendars.
At least six school districts nationally, including Cambridge, Mass.; Dearborn, Mich.; Burlington, Vt.; and Paterson and South Brunswick, N.J., have granted days off for the major Muslim holidays. Many more districts recognize the holidays in other ways, such as noting them on their school calendars or granting excused absences for observant students. Even so, some school districts have experienced backlash. In November 2014, education officials in Montgomery County, Md., reacted to a local campaign to recognize the Muslim holidays by deciding to eliminate all mention of religious holidays on their 201516 school calendar, including Rosh Hashana and Christmas. Instead, those days would simply be marked as days off.
Mayor de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, rejected the idea, saying that students needed more time in the classroom, not less. Mr. Bloomberg also expressed concern that parents of different faiths would need to arrange child care on days that school was not in session. Mr. de Blasio had no objections as he had pledged as a candidate in 2013 to close schools on the two Muslim holy days. On Wednesday, the mayor said that the changes would take effect in the coming academic year.
The mayor has also promised to close schools on the Lunar New Year, a cherished cause of Asian-American groups. On Wednesday, he said only that he was “going to keep working on that,” noting that he and schools officials had to contend with a packed academic calendar. State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, a Democrat who represents Chinatown in Manhattan, said that while he was pleased with the new policy on Muslim holidays, “it’s critical that the Lunar New Year have the same result.” The mayor is also facing pressure from American Indian groups that want schools to be closed for the Hindu festival of Diwali.
Source: The New York Times, 3/4/15, By Michael M. Grynbaum and Sharon Otterman
[Editor’s Note: As the Times article noted in November 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Washington Post reporting that the Montgomery County Board of Education (MCBOE) had voted to eliminate the names of all religious holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, from the school district’s published calendar for 2015-16. The MCBOE’s 7-1 vote to remove religious holidays came in the aftermath of a request from Muslim community leaders to give equal billing to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha.]