Montgomery County residents who support closing public schools on two Muslim holidays renewed their campaign Monday, on the steps of the County Council Office Building in Rockville.
The Equality for Eid Coalition called on county Muslims and their supporters to stay home from school on Oct. 15, Eid ul-Adha on the Muslim calendar.
Montgomery County Public Schools said it does not close school for religious reasons, but will consider doing so if a holiday causes a significant amount of absenteeism. The coalition, sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations Maryland chapter, believes that a mass absence of Muslim students will demonstrate the impact of the holiday.
“As the Muslim community grows, more and more families are impacted every year,” said Zainab Chaudry, vice president of CAIR-MD. “We’re not asking for special rights. We’re only asking for equal rights.”
Muslim students must make a choice between risking their academic standing and following the dictates of their religion, supporters say.
Students who observe Eid ul-Adha and the second holiday, Eid ul-Fitr, receive an excused absence from their school. No state tests are scheduled on those days, but county tests and quizzes might be scheduled, according to Joshua Starr, superintendent of MCPS.
The school district is closed for the Christian holidays of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Monday, and the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah (first day), Yom Kippur and Passover.
County Council member George Leventhal (At Large), who backs closing schools on the two Muslim holidays, told the gathering that when the county decided to close schools on Christian and Jewish holidays, it did not require proof that they caused absenteeism.
“The schools were always closed on Christmas. And there are no records available to show what the absenteeism was before the schools were closed on the High Holidays,” said Leventhal, who is Jewish, adding, “I will be keeping my son home to express my solidarity.”
Asked before the event whether adding Muslim holidays would be unfair to other religious groups, Leventhal said, “I have not heard from the Hindu and Buddhist communities. We haven’t heard any complaints from any other religions.”
The coalition is supported by groups representing Islam, Christianity and Judaism, including Jews United for Justice. A number of county leaders in addition to Leventhal have lent their support, including County Executive Ike Leggett.
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, said it may be time to consider closing school on Muslim holidays, “if the demography of the Muslim community has reached the point where they represent a significant part of the school system.”
The Two Eids
Eid-ul-Adha celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. Jews know the story as the binding of Isaac. In Muslim tradition, the son in question is Ishmael. The holiday is spent in prayer, feasting and aiding the poor.
Eid-ul-Fitr, marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Both days are spent with the community, so any Muslim student or teacher who wants to celebrate them must miss school. Montgomery County Public Schools makes allowance for the holidays: no tests are scheduled on the two Eids and students who miss school receive an excused absence.