There has been a lot of discussion in NY Schools on the proposed closing of school during Muslim holy days. Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., recently wrote about the issue of holidays in New York schools.
The latest wrangle over religion and schools is in New York City, where the City Council recently voted to add two Muslim holy days to the schools’ holiday calendar.
It may not happen, because Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gets the last word, opposes the idea. “If you close the schools for every single holiday,” the mayor told The New York Times, “there won’t be any school.”
While many groups are claiming that school holidays should be equal for every religion, many others are asking when and where the line will be drawn if this proposal goes through.
Whatever the outcome, the New York calendar debate is noteworthy as a harbinger of challenges ahead as schools grapple with America’s rapidly expanding religious diversity. Recent conflicts, from Hindus objecting to how they’re treated in textbooks, to Native American students seeking accommodation to wear unshorn hair, to Muslim students asking to be released for Friday prayer, members of minority faiths are speaking up as if to say, “We are here too.”
In and of itself, adding two Muslim holy days — Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha — to the holiday list wouldn’t have a major impact on the New York school calendar, as these holidays often fall on weekends or during the summer because their timing is determined by the lunar calendar.
The author offers his opinion on how the holidays and holy days can be accommodated in the classroom.
Meanwhile, there are other First-Amendment-friendly ways to accommodate the religious holiday needs of Muslim students.
Give students of all faiths a reasonable number of excused absences for religious holidays, with no penalty and appropriate opportunities to make up missed work. And, if possible, avoid scheduling major exams (such as the New York Regents exam) on any major religious holy day.
The face of American Schools are changing in order to keep up with the increasingly diversified student body that creates them and this issue will need to be addressed by every state in time.