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Should Montgomery County Schools Observe Muslim Holidays?

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Crowds gathered outside the Discovery Center in Boyds, Md., for the Eid ul-Adha holiday.
Elliott Francis
Crowds gathered outside the Discovery Center in Boyds, Md., for the Eid ul-Adha holiday.

The Montgomery County Board of Education is considering changing the criteria used to determine what religious holidays become days off for students.

The board approved the school calendar for next year today, and two Muslim holidays that many parents of that religion sought to be declared days off went unchanged. In this case, both holidays fall on days where school is already scheduled not to be in session during the next calendar year.

But it seemed unlikely those holidays would have turned into days off regardless because of the criteria currently used to determine such days: absentee rates among students and teachers.

On the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Adha last month, the absentee rate for both was around 5 percent. By comparison, when the schools decided to take the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off starting in 1973, the absentee rates were around 15 percent.

Using that as the determining factor has Muslim parents like Samira Hussein angry.
 
"Forty years ago? Please. Look at the makeup of our community. Does it really reflect 40 years ago? I don't think so," Hussein says. "You can walk into any classroom and see it does not look the same as 40 years ago. I think that is ridiculous."

Board of Education president Christopher Barclay agrees to a point, saying that while the absentee rate will still be used, there is no magic number that must be exceeded. And that needs to be clearer.

"What is that threshold for absenteeism for both students and staff?" says Barclay. "That really becomes the big issue, and what impact it has on the ability to do our business, which is instruction."

Barclay adds that they will also encourage teachers not to schedule tests or field trips on religious holidays that are not days off.

School policy allows an excused absence for any student who chooses to stay home for religious observance.

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