- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Baltimore County public school officials have said that adding Muslim holidays to the school calendars is unlawful and “irresponsible,” marking another setback in attempts across the region to add the holidays.

Muslim supporters wanted schools to close for Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, and Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting.

A few dozen members of the county’s chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee asked for the change at a school board meeting Tuesday night.

School officials, however, stood firm by a state law that disallows public schools from endorsing any religion, saying the school calendar can include scheduled closures only for holidays that cause low attendance rates countywide.

Kara Calder, school board spokeswoman, said yesterday that officials have adhered to Maryland law.

“The board’s position has been — and remains — that the primary obligation is to educate students and meet requirements,” she said.

The anti-discrimination committee has pushed its request for the past several years, calling it an issue of equality because schools recognize Jewish and Christian holidays.

County school board President Donald L. Arnold said after the board meeting Tuesday night that the change would be “irresponsible” because the law is explicit, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Miss Calder wasn’t sure why the group broached the issue Tuesday night, since it was not on the meeting agenda.

She surmised that it was a last chance to publicly address the issue with the board before formal discussion of the school calendar next month.

The group could not be reached yesterday.

County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston will consider recommendations for his proposed 2008-09 school calendar. The board will vote on the calendar in June or July.

Most of the other area systems said they don’t track students’ religion and don’t acknowledge most religious holidays. However, they will excuse students for recognized religious holidays, even if they aren’t on the official school calendar.

Prince George’s County prohibits scheduling tests, meetings, workshops, field trips or other special activities on those days.

The county’s 2007-08 calendar includes an official school holiday to mark the month of Ramadan, though it is coupled with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana.

However, Prince George’s is the only local county to list Ramadan on its official school calendar. Good Friday and Easter also are listed.

Elsewhere in the region, school closings for religious holidays vary.

Montgomery County public schools and offices are closed for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The county also lists Christmas and Easter as religious holidays.

The Fairfax County public school system has an extensive list of holidays and observances on its official calendar. Although the calendar lists no religious holidays, officials say they try to accommodate them.

The District and Arlington County list no religious holidays on their official school calendars.

Arlington County public school officials say religious holidays have not been an issue but they are cognizant of them to avoid scheduling conflicts.