- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) - Maryland’s largest school district has voted to strip religious labels from next year’s school calendar, including Christian holidays such as Easter and Christmas, and the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

The 7-1 decision Tuesday by Montgomery County’s Board of Education comes after Muslim leaders in the community asked that equal recognition be given to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha.

Schools still will be closed for the Christian and Jewish holidays and students will get the same days off.

Muslim leaders said they were not pleased with the board’s decision. They didn’t want religious labels removed from the other holidays, just for Muslim students to be treated equally and to have their holidays recognized, said Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition.

“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality,” Ali told The Washington Post. “It’s a pretty drastic step, and they did it without any public notification.”

Ali told WTOP-FM: “Simply saying, ‘We’re not going to call this Christmas, and we’re not going to call this Yom Kippur,’ and still closing the schools, that’s not equality.”

Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha fall on the same day next year, which means all students will have off that day. But Muslim leaders say that’s just a coincidence and that their efforts to add Muslim holidays to the school calendar were symbolic but important.

Muslim parents and community members packed Tuesday’s meeting and demonstrated outside, carrying signs that read, “Send them home for the Eid holiday,” and “My child is not a second-class citizen.”

Board members said they sympathized with Muslim parents and students, but that Maryland law prohibits them from closing school for religious reasons. Schools are closed on holidays such as Christmas and Yom Kippur, they say, because of high student and staff absenteeism on those days, which affects school operations.

Board member Rebecca Smondrowski said removing all religious references on the calendar was “the most equitable option.”

Board member Michael Durso, the only one who voted against stripping religious references to next year’s calendar, said Montgomery brags about its diversity and embracing different cultures.

“No matter how well-intentioned we are, it comes off as insensitive,” he said. “I just think we cannot afford to be in that light.”

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