- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

TOWSON, Md. (AP) — Muslim parents and community leaders in Baltimore County have been lobbying for more than a year to get schools closed for two of their more important religious holidays.

Schools are closed on Jewish and Christian holidays, they have argued repeatedly at school board meetings, so why not on Muslim holidays as well?

Despite those efforts, the system’s proposed calendar for the 2006-07 academic year does not close schools for Eid al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which celebrates the Koranic account of God’s allowing Abraham to sacrifice a sheep instead of his son.

Schools will be closed for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and for Christmas.

The system presented its proposed calendar to the school board this week. The board is scheduled to vote on it next month.

Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore County Muslim Council, told the Baltimore Sun he would continue fighting.

“I probably will have hope until the minute the board will approve or disapprove the calendar,” he said.

School system spokesman Charles A. Herndon said Superintendent Joe A. Hairston considered the viewpoints of everyone on the calendar committee in developing the proposal.

School district officials say that closing schools on Muslim holidays would set a precedent the system would have to follow for any number of other religious and ethnic groups, but they do not want to retract the Jewish holidays that have been part of the calendar since 1995.

Before schools began closing for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, officials said, some schools had been so empty that they risked state sanctions for low attendance and had been unable to find enough substitute teachers.

Mr. Pharoan, who sits on the 26-member calendar committee that advises Mr. Hairston, said the panel did not vote on a proposed calendar and was not encouraged to reach consensus this year — moves he felt were meant to silence him.

“I told the superintendent, ‘What are we meeting for?’” he said.

Mr. Pharoan said he was upset that Mr. Hairston has not appointed a task force to study how the calendar is created, as he said he would in January after a request by school board member Michael P. Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy has said the purpose of such a task force would be to find common ground with the Muslim community.

Mr. Herndon said Mr. Hairston was “moving with deliberate speed” to appoint a committee, but “there really is no timetable set up at this point.”

Mr. Kennedy, the school board member perceived as most sympathetic to the Muslims’ request, said the calendar is skewed toward Christianity and Judaism.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing the Muslim holidays in the calendar, to be honest with you,” he said.

In December, a state education department committee proposed that public school students across Maryland be given up to two “floating holidays” for religious observances.

The proposal was designed to satisfy Baltimore County’s Muslim community, but Mr. Pharoan said he would not be happy so long as schools are closed on the Jewish holidays and open on the Muslim holidays.

The State Board of Education has not acted on the proposal.

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