For at least 10 years now, Muslims in Baltimore County have been pushing for public schools to close for two major Islamic holidays: Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr. The long-stalled effort, championed most vocally by Dr. Bash Pharoan, was recently re-ignited when county school board member Michael Collins suggested that, seeing as Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha both fall on Sept. 23 in 2015, the Muslim holiday could be noted in the academic calendar.
According to the Baltimore Sun, this seemingly harmless suggestion sparked a “short, heated debate.” In the end, the board decided not to mention Eid al-Adha in the 2015-2016 calendar and sent the issue to its policy committee.
The hold-up, from the school board’s perspective, is that a “plausible secular purpose” is required if schools are to be closed for a religious holiday. That means that county schools could close only if to stay open would mean to suffer a large number of absences. But if that’s really the test, then what’s up with county schools closing on Easter Monday? Are we assuming students and staff would be staying home in huge numbers nursing candy hangovers if schools were open?
But the absenteeism requirement is complicated and vague. No minimum number of absences has been quoted, and the prospect of getting behind on lessons might keep many Muslim students from staying home, even though those absences would be excused.
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