Maryland Schools Forced by Muslims to Remove Christmas and Easter Vacations?

Rumor: A Maryland school district was forced to rename Christmas and Easter vacation due to pressure from Muslim groups.

Claim:   A Maryland school district removed Christmas and Easter vacations from school calendars due to pressure from Muslim groups.


MIXTURE:






WHAT’S TRUE: A Maryland school district renamed Christmas, Easter, and other religious holidays on school calendars after a Muslim group asked for the inclusion of an Islamic holiday.
 
WHAT’S FALSE: A Muslim religious group demanded that the school district rename or remove Christmas break from school calendars.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2014]


Received this in an email. True or not? “Thanks to the group of Muslims at this school, Christmas Break will now be ‘Winter Break’. Way to bow and kiss the ring.”

 

Origins:   On 11 November 2014, the Montgomery County [Maryland] Public Schools’ Board of Education voted to remove all references to religious holidays from their schools’ 2015-2016 calendars. That decision was made shortly after the local Muslim community asked the district to add one of the two major Islamic holidays (Eid ul-Fitr or Eid ul-Adha) to school calendars:



Muslim community leaders have been asking Montgomery school officials for years to close schools for at least one of the two major Muslim holidays.

Students who miss classes on religious holidays are given excused absences. But Muslim families have argued that students should not have to choose between their faith and their schoolwork and that missing even a day leaves many students behind. They say the day off is a matter of equity, with Christian and Jewish students getting days off for their holidays.


Zainab Chaudry, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said she was shocked by the school district’s decision, as that result was not what her group had requested:



We were blindsided. We are disappointed. It isn’t what we asked for. We don’t believe that other faith groups should be punished for our request. I think this really shows that the Board of Education would take drastic measures to ensure that the Muslim students don’t receive equal and fair treatment. They would remove the Christian holidays and they would remove the Jewish holidays from the calendar before they would consider adding the Muslim holiday to the calendar.

Other Muslim leaders also described the district’s decision as both a surprise and a mistake:



“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality,” said Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition. “It’s a pretty drastic step, and they did it without any public notification.”

Zainab Chaudry, also a co-chair of the coalition, expressed dismay, too, contending the school board’s members were willing to “go so far as to paint themselves as the Grinch who stole Christmas” to avoid granting equal treatment for the Muslim holiday.


The Maryland school district’s decision, which passed with a 7-to-1 vote, does not change either the number of vacation days students receive or when they will observe them. District schools will still be closed for major Christian and Jewish holidays, but school calendars will no longer include the names of religious celebrations such as Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Instead, the calendars will be marked with generic terms such as “winter break,” “spring break,” or simply “no school.” District officials explained the rationale behind their decision as being that schools do not close on Christian and Jewish holidays for religious reasons, but rather because those are days which historically see high rates of absenteeism among students and staff:



Board members said that the new calendar will reflect days the state requires the system to be closed and that it will close on other days that have shown a high level of student and staff absenteeism. Though those days happen to coincide with major Christian and Jewish holidays, board members made clear that the days off are not meant to observe those religious holidays, which they say is not legally permitted.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr presented the board with three options to resolve the question, and a majority of members supported his recommended proposal to do away with the names of both the Muslim and the Jewish holidays on the calendar. But amending the proposal, the board opted to ditch references to Christmas and Easter, too.

Board members pointed to the Fairfax County school system’s calendar as an example; the largest school district in Virginia does not call out such religious holidays by name. In Montgomery, closing schools for Jewish holidays began in the 1970s. In voting to scrub the holiday names from the calendar, board members said they were trying to reflect the reason schools are closed on religious holidays: because of operational impacts — such as expected high absenteeism among students and staff on those days — not because the school system is observing a religious occasion.


Montgomery school board member Rebecca Smondrowski, who voted to remove references to religious holidays from school calendars, said that course of action was “the most equitable” decision the school board could make:



I just thought it was the most equitable thing to do. I respect and appreciate so much that this is a very personal issue for so many people. I was in no way trying to imply that I don’t respect people’s religious practices. I do.

School board Vice President Patricia O’Neill agreed, saying several other Maryland schools have stopped using the term “Christmas break” in favor of the non-religious term “winter break”:



It seems we’ve made multiple religious groups mad, but I believe we did the right thing. And we’re in good company. Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun. All are silent in calling out Christmas; they call it winter break.

Last updated:   28 September 2015


Sources:




    Walsh, Michael.

“Maryland School District Strikes Christmas from Calendar After Requests for Religious Equality.”

    Yahoo News.   12 November 2014.

    St. George, Donna.   “Backlash Over Montgomery Decision to Strip Christmas from School Calendar.”

    Washington Post.   12 November 2014.


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