“We have elementary schools [where kids] are a quarter absent” on Eid al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, school board member Abrar Omeish said in a meeting last month on the matter.
“We’re actually behind,” Omeish said. “New York, New Jersey, you guys mentioned Henrico. Other localities do this.”
But wait! What about learning? The kids must learn! How many days are we going to give them off, and where does it end? March 26 is Zoroaster’s birthday — are we going to close schools that day, too?
I know — in a region where schools close at the fall of a single snowflake, it’s outrageous districts would consider closing schools even more, even if thousands of kids are being forced to choose between their religion and their studies every year.
School districts across the nation have already made Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr, and Diwali regular school holidays, reflecting their changing populations.
Heck, schools in Louisiana have been closed on Mardi Gras for decades, acknowledging the region’s religious (but mainly cultural) practices.
A calendar should serve the population, rather than the population bowing to the calendar. Fairfax County was 95.7 percent White in 1970, according to the county’s 1977 profile of itself. Today? Just 50 percent of residents are non-Hispanic Whites, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Jewish population in Northern Virginia has grown 80 percent between 2003 and 2017, according to a study by Brandeis University.
And the commonwealth as a whole has the second-largest Muslim population in America, behind Illinois, according to World Population Review.
Jewish and Muslim parents of Fairfax County kids joined a task force created by the school board to address the issue, after years of Jews and Muslims trying to explain to teachers how having school on Rosh Hashanah or Eid al-Fitr is like school on Christmas.
Of course, schools somehow think they fixed this by rebranding Easter and Christmas vacations as spring and winter breaks. But the fact is, Christians still get the day off for their big holidays (and all those extra days to get the ski trip or beach vacay in), and the region’s growing, diverse populations get, well, nothing.
But it’s not only about the learning loss that happens when non-Christian kids miss a regular school day to practice their religions.
It’s about acknowledging that these diverse beliefs exist — and deserve to be acknowledged, respected and celebrated, too.
Some of the folks arguing against the change said that this disastrous year of pandemic-style school is the wrong time to prioritize more days off, after F’s skyrocketed and learning has been marginal.
“For me, the trauma and remediation needs from covid . . . I think that is the primary factor this year and should be the primary factor in looking at our calendar,” board member Rachna Sizemore Heizer said at that Feb. 2 meeting.
The board has asked the superintendent this month to create another calendar, to allow for two “floating days” for students who want to take off for holidays.
But remember — all they’re talking about right now is two days. Two missed days that can be made up at the end of the school year.
And by doing that, Muslim and Jewish kids won’t randomly miss regular days of school. They’ll be celebrating their faith while getting the day off, just like Christians have done their whole lives.
And Christian kids will benefit, too. With those bonus days comes a way to expand the world of kids who have no familiarity with most of the world’s great religions.
“Having days off is a way for children to learn to appreciate the diversity in their community and show respect,” said Fairfax County parent Anna Stolley Persky, who is working to get Jewish holidays recognized. “Understanding different holidays becomes normalized.”
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