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Montgomery County asked to close schools for Muslim holidays

Maryland,Education,Lisa Gartner

Montgomery County officials are considering closing schools for two Muslim holidays next school year.

At-large County Councilman George Leventhal asked school leaders in a letter to shut down campuses for Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr, days when Muslim students and residents usually pray, feast and visit with family. Currently, Montgomery County Public Schools system offers excused absences to these students.

But the school-aged Muslim population is growing, Leventhal told The Washington Examiner, and it’s unfair that the schools close for certain faiths’ observances and not others. Students in Montgomery County stay home for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Monday, as well as a number of nonreligious holidays.

“The schools close all the time. The schools close for parental guidance, the schools close for teacher training,” Leventhal said. “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.”

Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the school system, wrote in an email, “We appreciate Councilman Leventhal’s letter and will certainly take it under consideration during our calendar-setting process, which includes parents, community members and staff.”

Leventhal said he’s meeting with Superintendent Joshua Starr in June to discuss closing the schools for Muslim holidays, among other topics.

No school system in the Washington suburbs currently closes for Muslim holidays like Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, or Eid-ul-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of biblical figure Abraham to sacrifice his son for God.

The holidays operate on a lunar calendar, so they vary each year. Next school year, Eid-ul-Fitr is scheduled for August, likely before the start of the school year; Eid-ul-Adha would close school on Friday, Oct. 26. In past years, the holidays have coincided with state standardized testing, and officials have since amended school policy to ensure the holidays are nontesting days.

Irma Hafeez, director of the Montgomery County Muslim Council, said her organization is starting a letter-writing campaign and hopes to gather signatures to support closing schools on the holidays. She estimates that Muslims make up 3 percent of Montgomery County.

“I think it will be a very good move at this time, to show politically and emotionally the tolerance of America and show we really care about freedom of expression, of religion, of pursuing a good life,” Hafeez said. “That is the dream of all the immigrants.”

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