School District Renames Christmas Break ‘Winter Break’ Instead of Accommodating Muslim Holidays

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How do you deal with a religious minority’s request that their most important holy day be included as a holiday on the school calendar? Apparently, if you’re the Montgomery County School District in Maryland, you just remove the religious connotations from days off altogether.

The local board of education issued a 7-to-1 ruling Tuesday night that renamed Christmas break and other religiously based days off, shortly after Muslim community members requested that the school board also accommodate Eid al-Adha. Not that the new names will alter when the days off occur: They will remain on traditional Jewish and Christian holidays, when the schools saw the lowest rates of attendance. (In New York, Mayor de Blasio has expressed a willingness to accommodate Muslim students celebrating Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr going forward, but both fell on non-school days in 2014.)

That makes sense, to an extent — no reason to shut down schools if an insignificant part of the local population (and particularly, of teachers and students) celebrates a given holiday. Christians make up the overwhelming majority of Montgomery residents, and Jews are the largest minority faith at 3 percent. Muslims, on the other hand, are still just one percent. 

Students already get excused absences for religious holidays, so Muslims aren’t exactly getting in trouble for keeping their kids home. But some argue that students shouldn’t have to choose between observing their faith and getting an education — which makes sense as long as you think there are a finite number of faiths that might request days off. (There aren’t.) Perhaps some sort of minimum population threshold should be met to ensure that little Damien’s parents don’t petition to have their Satanic rituals declared school holidays the next year.

But what did the board do, instead of telling Muslims what exact population threshold they must reach to qualify, or compromising on Eid as a no-major-tests day? They renamed all the holidays, as if students getting days off in the fall won’t know that they’re for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “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,” said Zainab Choudry, one of the chairs of the Equality for Eid coalition, probably doubly outraged at the board’s stunt.

Now it actually looks like they’re trying to avoid Muslim holidays. Smooth, guys.