- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — A state education department committee has proposed that public-school students across Maryland be given up to two floating holidays for religious observance.

Under the proposal, children who miss school for up to two religious holidays not only would have excused absences but also would be eligible for perfect attendance awards if they do not miss any other days of school.

Their school year effectively would be shortened from 180 days to 178. The absences also would not affect the attendance records that schools must keep under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The proposal was made by a committee on minority student achievement whose chairwoman told the Baltimore Sun that the plan would help districts accommodate their multicultural population without having to close for every holiday.

In Baltimore County, for example, Muslim families have been lobbying the school board for months to have their holidays recognized.

“I realized that this went beyond Baltimore County,” said Barbara Dezmon, an assistant superintendent in Baltimore County schools and chairwoman of the Achievement Initiative for Maryland’s Minority Students Steering Committee. “This is an issue that applies to different religious groups all over the state and all over the country.”

Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore County Muslim Council, said the proposal was “a step in the right direction, no doubt about it.”

Ultimately, however, Muslims want equal treatment for their holidays, Mr. Pharoan said. Either schools must close for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha along with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or close for none of them, he said.

The state committee, made up of 22 education and community leaders appointed by state Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, voted unanimously in favor of the plan on Wednesday.

The committee left it to Mrs. Grasmick’s staff to determine the details of the proposal.

Deputy Superintendent Ronald Peiffer said the state board would study the proposal.

“This issue has the potential of being really complex,” he said, adding that the education department likely would seek advice from the state Attorney General’s Office. “We need to get a lot more information.”

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