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School district decides not to add Muslim holy days to calendar

Shahnaz Mallik, of Woodmere, a grandmother who petitioned

Shahnaz Mallik, of Woodmere, a grandmother who petitioned the Hewlett-Woodmere school district to add holidays for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, in her home in Woodmere on Jan. 22, 2018. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

The Hewlett-Woodmere school district, which decided last week not to add two holy Muslim days to its annual calendar, on Monday condemned derogatory comments about Islam made at a recent meeting that had drawn sharp rebukes from Muslims in the Five Towns and New York region.

Earlier, district administrators had requested closure on the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr — the end of the holy month of Ramadan — and Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, during the 2018-19 school year.

But the board decided not to add the days off for those observances in the 2018-19 calendar that it approved 7-0 at its meeting last Wednesday.

The district, in a statement Monday in response to questions from Newsday, said the board “exercised its discretion and determined that insufficient secular purpose would be achieved by closure on these days.”

District officials would not elaborate on that statement.

Albert Fox Cahn, legal director for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he was disheartened by the rhetoric at school board meetings this month.

A news release from CAIR-NY “condemned the alleged harassment of Muslim community members and students” attending the meetings. The group shared images of a religiously biased text message it said had circulated within the community.

“I think it’s always concerning when school boards fail to recognize the diversities of the communities they serve, and it’s especially concerning when it comes in the aftermath of blatant discrimination,” Cahn said in an interview.

The district, in its statement Monday, said the board and administration “joins in the condemnation of the inappropriate and hurtful comments . . . that were intended to denigrate the religious beliefs of any of our students or residents.”

The statement said that “we recognize, accommodate, and support every Hewlett-Woodmere student’s absolute right to absent themselves from school on religious holidays.”

This year, Eid al-Fitr begins the evening of June 14 and ends the following evening — coming toward the end of the school year. Eid al-Adha, which occurs on the evening of Aug. 20 and lasts until the next night, falls outside of the regular school year.

Year to year, the dates of the two holidays vary.

A growing number of school districts have begun to recognize the Muslim holidays. In the current school year, the group in Nassau County includes the Syosset, Valley Stream 13, Valley Stream 24 and Valley Stream 30 districts, which will be entirely closed on June 15, according to Nassau BOCES. The East Williston and Herricks districts will be closed to students only on that day.

Last May, the Jericho school district OK’d the Eid holidays, effective for the 2018-19 school year. Before that approval, district officials had remarked on the difficulty of such a decision and vowed further study. A complicating factor is that official test dates usually occur in mid-June.

CAIR-NY continued to call on the Hewlett-Woodmere school board to add days off for the two holidays.

Shahnaz Mallik, a Woodmere grandmother of a fourth-grade girl and a boy who is entering prekindergarten in the fall, formed a petition in February 2017 that favored adding the holidays.

“It’s a burden on the kids. They are home to celebrate and they have on the back of their minds they have to make up all the work,” Mallik said. “Missing a day for a high school student who has several AP classes can be of great detriment to the student, even if [the] absence is excused for religious observance,” she said.

Eqbal Rasheed, a board member of the Islamic Center of Five Towns, said, “There’s a whole lot of families affected by this that I know.” But he added, “We’re still hopeful. It’s just the beginning, so we’ll keep trying.”

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