On November 13, 2012 the MCPS Board of Education met to adopt a school calendar for the academic year 2013-2014. President of Council on American Islamic Relations, Maryland Chapter, Dr. Mudasar Raza, Montgomery County Councilman George Leventhal and other Muslim community members presented their testimony at the meeting.
" The result was expected, but it is not over yet," said Raza. CAIR-Maryland had been working to bring this issue to forefront again for the past couple of months. According to CAIR-MD, there are significant numbers of American Muslim students and staff who are not treated the same as their classmates and colleagues of other faiths at the MCPS. While MCPS provides system-wide school closings on Christian and Jewish holidays, Muslim students and staff must miss classroom instruction to attend their obligatory religious observances on Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr because they are not granted holidays.
CAIR-MD had urged the Muslim community to contact the MCPS Board and Superintendent Joshua Starr to let them know that nothing less than equal treatment for American Muslims is acceptable. Their call was met by an outpouring of emails sent to the Board of Education.
Earlier this year, Montgomery County Councilman George Leventhal wrote to MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and Board of Education President Shirley Brandman on May 23, 2012 urging the school system to "provide two school closing days each school year for American Muslims."
Anhar Karim, a student and president of the Montgomery County Muslim Student Association testified at the BOE meeting and spoke about a first grader he knew who thought his holiday was inferior to Christmas because he did not get a day off from school.
Samira Husain, a family services worker with the Montgomery County Public School district, also testified at the meeting. "There will be one Eid in the school year in the next ten years. As a member of a minority religion, I see the MCPS values and accommodate Jewish and Christian holidays with deliberate accommodation, we are asking for nothing more and nothing less."
Legality was discussed as was the state calendar as legally school systems in the state cannot declare days off solely because they are religious holidays, regardless of population demographics. According to a 1998 Maryland law, school systems must base the decision on attendance rates to avoid violating the establishment clause, which prohibits lawmakers from exerting religious preference.
"We are not asking them to look at this just as a religious issue, we are also asking them to consider the instruction missed by Muslim students on Eid ul Adha and Eid al Fitr," said Raza in an interview to the Muslim Link.
Michael A. Durso, a member of the Board of Education, spoke at length in favor of the proposal to add Eid as a holiday to the school calendar in keeping with the inclusive nature of the county. He questioned the legality requirement of absenteeism. "Do we really mean it, if we did then every Friday in May we would have significant issues getting substitutes and have a holiday. What do we say to Muslim parents that we will figure it out? We are in a position that we can be seriously misinterpreted," said Durso.
Christopher Barclay, Vice President of the Board of Education stressed the need to have a standard set for the BOE on this issue. "Do we have a fair and clear standard and what is that standard?" asked Barclay.
Barclay also asked the board to consider the pressure parents feel when students miss credits especially in the higher classes. "We need the clearest data possible, how many elementary students, how many middle and high school students," said Barclay.
According to the statistics read out by a representative from the Montgomery County Public Schools, this Eid five percent of the student body and six percent of the staff were absent on Eid ul Adha. The year before it was four percent respectively.
Looking at the low absences that the MCPS provided, it seems that Muslims themselves do not take this holiday off, for a variety of reasons. Some do not celebrate Eid on the same day due to differing opinions on the method of determining Eid, others send their children in late on Eid after Eid Salah is over, and for other Muslim parents school takes precedence over religious celebrations.
"Muslims have to make it a priority. I have never missed Eid during my whole life except for once during my fellowship when three out of six of the other fellows were Muslims and I was the most junior," said Raza, who is a doctor by profession.
Dr. Joshua Starr, MCPS Superintendent voted for the calendar without adding Eid as a holiday as did other members. Only Durso voted in favor of adding the Eid holiday.
John Mannes, a senior at Northwest High School, is the 35th student member of the Board of Education. He is a member of the Policy Committee. "Are we saying no forever, no, not a precedent, as long as we see the feasibility and back it up."
Comments left on the Bethesda Patch shows the variety of Muslim responses to this issue.
"...Let us not compare Muslims with Christians or Jews. We should treat all religions equally. I recommend Muslim parents just get their kids excused for prayers and then they go back to school. We have so many few school year days, our kids need all the milliseconds needed to stay ahead," commented Hussein Ali Usmani
"Having gone through the Montgomery County public school system, I remember this idea being discussed at various times over the past 30 years. I applaud the ... effort to include the Eid holidays among the days off for teachers and students alike, including my own children, and hope it will be fairly considered. It is important to realize during this debate that in certain years, observing the holidays will not require actual days off since they may fall during the summer or other breaks or on weekends," commented Hena Khan.
Raza said CAIR Maryland will be working with other Muslim organizations on this issue.
CAIR- MD is not ruling out the possibility of a lawsuit.