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Students in Maryland school system to be off on Muslim holiday — and Lunar New Year

Thursday December 5, 2019
By Donna St. George

(Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Elected officials in the Washington suburbs adopted an academic calendar for next school year that gives students a day off on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, a move that followed the resolution of a possible conflict with Advanced Placement testing.

The calendar for 2020-2021 in Montgomery County, passed Tuesday by the county school board, designates May 13 as a teacher professional day so that students can be out of classes for the Islamic holy day.

Helping to clear the way was a decision by the College Board to create extra testing options: Advanced Placement tests planned for May 13 would be given a second time, on May 18, to support students observing the holiday, College Board officials said in November as the issue flared.

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At recent school board meetings, Muslim parents and students had pressed for the day off, citing the holiday’s importance and issues of fairness.

Students in Montgomery — home to Maryland's largest school system, with an enrollment of more than 165,000 — are off for two Jewish holidays and a string of days around Christmas and Easter.

“This is a big victory for our students,” said Samira Hussein, a longtime advocate on the issue. “They will feel accepted and acknowledged by their teachers, their Board of Education, their superintendent.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, lauded the county school board for lobbying the College Board and making Eid a day off for students — actions it said show “a strong commitment to inclusivity, diversity and equity.”

Zainab Chaudry, the organization's director of Maryland outreach, said many students struggle with reconciling their Muslim and American identities amid a rise in Islamophobia, hate crimes and bullying.

“This kind of decision sends a message to these students that you are not only welcome here but you belong here and you are celebrated here — we want you to feel like you have a place in the school system,” Chaudry said.

In another nod to the increasing diversity of the suburban county, the calendar also gives a day off for Lunar New Year, which many Asian families celebrate, by placing a professional day on Feb. 12, 2021. Asian parents and students have advocated making the change and weighed in during a recent survey.

The 2020-2021 year, slated to include 182 school days, is to begin Aug. 31 — opening before Labor Day, which is Sept. 7 in 2020. In recent years, school has started after Labor Day, but that start schedule, which was mandated by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), was overturned by state legislators this year.

Under the new calendar, schools will also stay open on Inauguration Day in 2021, but board member Patricia O’Neill called for instruction related to the inauguration and for the airing of the ceremony in schools.

“It is an important element of our democratic process,” she said. “It is one of the most important elements. It has historical significance, no matter how the movie ends in 2020. That script hasn’t been written, but I do think we should have a guided instructional program.”

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