Muslim students push for Eid to be a school holiday

GUILDERLAND — The school board here was educated last week by a handful of Muslim students, advocating that the school calendar take into account their religious holidays.

Toward the end of the Feb. 1 meeting, longtime school board member Judy Slack said she was ashamed that she hadn’t been aware of Eid al-Fitr, which one of the students, marks the end of the Ramadan fast.

“First of all, Eid is like Christmas for us,” wrote Arisha Ahmed, one of four Muslim students who addressed the council in written comments read at the start of the meeting by the council chairwoman. , Seema Rivera. “Imagine having to go to school at Christmas. It’s that simple.”

Superintendent Marie Wiles said that as the district works out next year’s school calendar, she met with a group of Muslim students earlier in the day. She noted that in 2023, Eid al-Fitr begins at sundown on a Friday “so missing school won’t be a problem” for the Saturday celebration.

However, she continued, “This group of young people speaking out wants to raise awareness about the future of the holidays.”

Wiles had met with the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee on Jan. 19, explaining some of the parameters of establishing a school calendar.

The state requires 180 school days; for every day less than that, the district would lose aid equivalent to a teacher’s salary, Wiles said.

Additionally, schedules should be aligned with those of other districts in the area for shared programs like those run by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

The committee discussed how to promote acceptance of different religions or beliefs that do not encompass religion.

Guilderland experienced a similar awakening more than a quarter century ago when several board members declared that only federal holidays should be observed as days off. However, at the same time as now, Good Friday was a school holiday, as well as the days surrounding Christmas and Easter.

In the fall of 1995, several other board members expressed outrage that a teacher had tested students on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most important and sacred Jewish holy day. Public and board discussions ensued, resulting in the district deciding not to hold classes on Jewish holy days – a practice that schools in Guilderland still follow.

Later, in 2010, a follower of Sikhism felt left out when he saw the calendar distributed by the Guilderland School District. He saw that it included Christian, Jewish and Islamic holidays as well as the Chinese New Year. He asked if his religion could also be included.

He was not asking for days off but simply that the holidays of his religion be noted on the school calendar, which is widely circulated in the community. In the end, the board decided that the school calendar was too busy to list holidays for all religions.

Muslim students speak out

“In today’s world, there is so much hatred and misrepresentation of Muslims that prevents us from practicing our religion. The inability of Muslims to celebrate Eid during the school year is an example of this,” Rehana Firdaus wrote to the school board on February 1.

Firdaus wrote that explaining to teachers what Eid is can be a long process and also said: “Compared to other Jewish and Christian holidays where they have several days off, we only ask for one day off. time off to celebrate our holidays, which we always do. not get.

“Muslims only celebrate two holidays a year: Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. We have free time for Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, important holidays for those who celebrate them. Why not Eid? Ilyas Naina asked. “For Muslims, Eid is the most special day of the whole year.”

Naina also wrote, “While most Muslim students skip school on Eid day and get an excused absence for the day, they are still expected to make up for missed work and are at an academic disadvantage as they have missed learning”.

“As our Muslim population at school grows and our school strives to improve diversity, it is only right that it be more inclusive,” wrote Guilderland senior Nehla Ismail, noting that the school calendar observes the holidays of only two religions.

Ismail explained, “Eid comes after the month of Ramadan, or fasting, as a celebration of the sacrifices and struggles that Muslims go through. We spend time with family and friends, go to the mosque and play games.

Table views

At the Feb. 1 board meeting, member Blanca Gonzales-Parker asked if the district had a policy to ensure students can get extensions or modifications for absences due to major religious holidays.

“I think a lot of it depends on the teacher,” Wiles replied.

She added that she spoke with Matthew Pinchinat, the district’s DEI director, about “an educational play to help other students and teachers understand…it’s like going to school at Christmas.” .

Wiles continued, “They are brainstorming ideas,” possibly creating a video.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo suggested that no tests be administered during the holidays and that homework be allowed the following day.

Currently, Muslim students enjoy an excused absence for Eid but have to make up for work.

Gonzalez-Parker urged that teachers this school year be encouraged to be flexible with their schoolwork during Eid.

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