NYC schools observe Muslim holidays

Move could open the door for other districts to recognize Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr
By: | Issue: May, 2015
April 10, 2015

New York City Public Schools will become the first large urban district to observe two major Muslim holy days in the academic calendar. The move has sparked other ethnic and religious groups to fight for recognition of their respective holidays.

Starting in 2015-16, schools will close on Sept. 24 for Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the prophet Abraham. And Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and falls over the summer in 2016, will be observed during summer school. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced the calendar change in March at PS/IS 30 in Brooklyn, where 36 percent of students were absent the last time Eid al-Adha fell on an instructional day.

“We made a pledge to families that we would change our school calendar to reflect the strength and diversity of our city,” de Blasio said in a district statement. “Hundreds of thousands of Muslim families will no longer have to choose between honoring the most sacred days on their calendar or attending school.”

More holidays?

It let the flood gates open. A week later, a coalition of City Council members, congressional representatives and state legislators whose districts include large Asian communities signed a letter to de Blasio, calling for city schools to observe the Lunar New Year.

Asian-American students account for about 15 percent of the New York City public school populationÑmore than 150,000 students. “Lunar New Year is the most important cultural celebration on the Asian calendar,” the letter states. “Absentee rates have been reported to be as high as 80 percent on Lunar New Year.”

Leaders of the city’s Indian and Hindu communities called on the mayor to close schools on Diwali. When asked about these additional holidays during the March announcement, de Blasio stated that city officials were still discussing it with the Department of Education. The earliest these holidays could be added is 2016-17.

More Muslims

Some 10 percent of New York City’s 1.1 million students are Muslim, according to a 2008 study from Columbia University’s Teachers College. And already, districts with large Muslim populations in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont have closed public schools for such holidays in recent years.

The New York City Council approved a resolution to add the Muslim holidays to the academic calendar in 2009, but then-mayor Michael Bloomberg chose not to implement it, stating students needed more time in the classroom.

New York City Public Schools will not lose any instructional days, the district statement says. The Muslim holidays change each yearÑthis school year, both fell on days that students already had off. Starting next year, if one or both of the holidays fall on a regular school day, not including summer, the district will start the school year one day earlier.

Last fall, Montgomery County Public Schools’ board in Maryland denied community requests to add Eid Al-Adha to the calendar. District officials determined that absentee rates on the holiday were not higher than normal and did not warrant a day off. Instead, the board voted in November to remove the names of other religious holidaysÑsuch as Christmas and Yom KippurÑfrom the academic calendar, though the holidays are still observed.