“We understand that observant students may not be in school on Thursday, May 13, 2021, and that some schools may choose to close for the holiday,” College Board spokesman Jerome White said in an email. “Our goal is to provide flexibility in the exam schedule to best support students and schools.”
The move goes a step beyond the College Board’s usual approach. It routinely provides an alternative testing time for students who miss exams for religious reasons, emergencies or other circumstances. But next school year, a full exam day will be repeated.
The complete AP exam schedule for 2021 will be posted in mid-December.
Muslim advocates and parents in suburban Maryland cheered the change, which they said they hoped would lead to a day off for students in the state’s largest school system, in Montgomery County.
With AP testing in mind, Montgomery County school officials drafted three 2020-2021 calendar proposals, all of which showed Eid al-Fitr as a regular school day — in contrast to the past several years, when Eid holidays were marked as teacher professional days, so that students could be off.
Muslim advocates, students and parents learned of the conflict in late October, turning out for a school board meeting with signs saying “Equality for Eid” and giving passionate testimony about the importance of the holy day, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
“This is a wonderful compromise,” said Zainab Chaudry, director of Maryland outreach for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy organization. “It would give flexibility to local school boards, based on whether they are giving students the day off for the Eid holiday.”
Montgomery’s school board voted in late October to notify the College Board of the potential conflict between AP testing and the Muslim holiday, and to ask that no exams be held on Eid al-Fitr.
School board vice president Patricia O’Neill, who had proposed writing the letter, lauded the College Board decision.
“We live in a global society and we need to be culturally responsive,” she said. “This was an issue not just for Montgomery County but for Muslim students across the country.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations also sent the College Board a letter asking that AP exams not be scheduled on the religious holiday.
Chaudry said her organization spoke with College Board officials Wednesday, describing the conversation as cordial and respectful. The organization was told the College Board would create a distinct exam for each testing day, she said.
“We appreciate their commitment to inclusivity and diversity and their flexibility in trying to accommodate school districts that are giving the day off for the Eid holiday for tens of thousands of Muslim students,” she said.
Montgomery’s school board is expected to vote on a 2020-2021 calendar in early December. At a meeting Tuesday, the board discussed calendar issues broadly, and Muslim parents, students and advocates made their case again.
Schools are closed in Montgomery County on the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — a decision officials say was first made in the 1970s because of high levels of absenteeism.
In keeping with state law, schools are closed on Christian holidays, including Christmas and Good Friday.
For years, Muslim advocates had pressed to have a day off when one of their faith’s two major holy days fell on a school day. Montgomery school officials say by law they cannot close schools specifically for religious reasons.
The school board voted in 2015 to schedule a professional day on Eid in 2016.
Elsewhere in Maryland, school systems in Howard and Baltimore counties recently voted to place a professional day on the Eid holiday in 2020-2021, so that students can be off. In New York, schools have given a day off on Eid holy days since 2015.
Adileh Sharieff, a parent and a trustee at the Islamic Center of Maryland, a mosque in Gaithersburg, said the College Board action reflects a growing inclusivity and acceptance of different faiths.
“That they are willing to listen and accommodate, that’s huge,” she said.