In November 2014, the MCPS board voted to remove all references to religious holidays from the official calendar. This included Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as well as Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter, all of which had previously been included on the calendar.
The decision stemmed from a request from Muslim community leaders that MCPS give off school for one of the major Muslim holidays in 2014. The Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha was occurring on the same day as Yom Kippur, so there was a proposal to give off school for “Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha” rather than just “Yom Kippur.”
The county deliberated and responded that students and teachers are given off for holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Christmas because of high expected absenteeism on those days, not because of county observance of the holidays. The MCPS board, in confirming that the days off were because of expected absenteeism and not because of religion, voted 7-1 to replace religious holiday names with a simple “No School For Teachers and Students.”
According to a Washington Post Article ‘Holidays’ names stricken from next year’s Montgomery schools calendar’, Zainab Chaudry, co-chair of the coalition attempting to put the names of important Muslim holidays on the MCPS calendar, was disappointed, and said that the school board members were willing to “go so far as to paint themselves as the Grinch who stole Christmas” rather than recognize Muslim holidays.
Montgomery County students had mixed opinions about the refusal to give off school for Muslim holidays and the deletion of holiday names. One student said that the people who create the calendar “only give us the other holidays because it’s a really large population” that will miss school on those days, and that there was no reason to give off for holidays that a small number of students and teachers observed. “The only reason I know of any Jewish holidays is because we get a day off for them,” said another student, who had mixed feelings but ultimately decided that the names should be included.
Montgomery Blair High School freshman Aliza Goldschlag disagreed. “It’s too hard to include the names of all of the holidays of all the religions. There isn’t a great reason to include any holiday names, especially if there is still school on those days. It just makes the calendar more complicated.”
Blair senior Alex Brassel believed that cultural awareness was important. “The solution is to try to provide more recognition to holidays from all denominations (even if we don’t get school off for them), rather than removing holidays entirely… It’s better to try to provide more recognition, rather than to eliminate it for all.”
John F. Kennedy senior Maya Bickel agreed. The name change “does not do anything to address the legitimate concerns of the Muslim students and parents in MCPS. Instead the name change is a dishonest attempt to make it seem like the days we get off for Jewish holidays are simply no school days. Everyone knows that they are Jewish holidays.”
Cultural awareness is always a good thing. Putting religious holidays on a county-wide calendar is an easy way to make different cultures a part of everyday life, but if we don’t want to do that, we need another way to educate people about them.
Article by MoCo Student MCPS writer Yaëlle Goldschlag of Montgomery Blair High School.