County Councilman George Leventhal
Council Member, George Leventhal's Letter, click to read.
Montgomery County Schools may discuss the possibility of closing schools for Muslim holidays after County Councilman George Leventhal requested consideration for Muslim students.
“The schools close all the time. The schools close for parental guidance, the schools close for teacher training,” Leventhal told The Washington Examiner. “I just don’t think it’s that much of an inconvenience to close the schools, and I do believe observant Muslims are entitled to the same courtesy extended for years to Christians and Jews.”
Some, like Leventhal, argue that the closings are only fair, citing the county closing schools for Christian and Jewilesh holidays as well as non-religious holidays and the size of the Muslim community in the county. However, legal experts say that the school system technically cannot declare days off solely for either Eid celebration regardless of the size of the affected population. In such cases the school system’s decision would need to be based on the attendance rates during those holidays. No official date is available for the attendance rates in past years.
Currently, Muslim holidays in Montgomery county are considered non-testing days.
While no other schools close for Muslim holidays in the Washington D.C. area, a region with an estimated 250,000 Muslims, districts in Cambridge, Mass., Burlington, Vt., Dearborn, Mich., and Trenton, N.J. are moving toward school closures.
However, even if the school board decided to close schools the new schedule would not take effect until year after next as the academic schedule was finalized in November.
Local activist, Samira Hussein of Gaithersburg, Maryland has been working toward making the school system more “Muslim-friendly” for over twenty years. News of the recent push toward school closings for Muslim holidays impressed her but while she expressed her admiration for the courage of Leventhal, she too was disappointed that it had to come from him.
“I was very very impressed and I really thank him but another thing I look at is why we had to wait for someone else to to do this for [the Muslim community]? If we let this time fail, we’ve really failed. We’ll have failed our children and many generations,” Hussein said.
Hussein had four children go through the Montgomery County Public School system, her eldest is now 31 years.
“The only way to keep up with the school system here was to be involved,” she said. “A lot of things that come home was not appropriate.”
Hussein worried that her kids were not getting a comprehensive education that included unbiased representations of Muslim countries. In response she met with a social studies teacher at her child’s school to revise the curriculum and volunteered as a guest speaker for the class.
In the early 1990s Hussein began work toward school closures for Muslim holidays. While she believes the Muslim community may not have been prepared for the task then, she’s confident they have the resources and numbers to make a difference now.
“The Muslim community wasn’t greatly supportive [in the past],” she said. “Now, our community should be ready...We cannot hide anymore. We need to speak in one voice. We need to organize.”
Hussein said one of the greatest mistakes the Muslim community makes is calling their children in sick on Muslim holidays instead of saying that their child will not attend school because of the holiday.
“Muslims just have to come forward and say ‘It’s my holiday’ and take the day off,” she said.
It’s not just about the ease of having a school closing for celebration. It’s something bigger, she said. “I want my child to have the same rights as the children that sit on their left and sit on their right.”