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Jericho school board declines to vote on Hindu, Muslim holidays

Amit Shelat, a Jericho resident, discussed the possibility

Amit Shelat, a Jericho resident, discussed the possibility of recognizing the Hindu festival of Diwali and two Muslim holy days as school holidays at a Jericho board of education meeting, Thursday, evening, Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Jericho school district took no action Thursday on requests to recognize the Hindu festival of Diwali and two Muslim holy days as school holidays any time soon, citing complications over scheduling.

The district’s board of education met Thursday night to address the issue, but while board members reiterated that they value the community’s diversity, they said they also must deal with the realities of scheduling.

If a religious holiday falls on an official test day, such as Eid al-Fitr — which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — in June 2018, it would be next to impossible to honor the holiday, Superintendent Henry Grishman said.

“How do you close school on an official testing day?” he asked.

The board said it would continue to discuss the topic with the community, but also noted Jericho does not make major decisions until it studies the issue thoroughly.

Several members of the public spoke, and said that while they understand and respect the board’s issues with scheduling, they still hope it will consider the holidays.

“We don’t do knee-jerk reactions and I respect that,” resident Inesha Joneja told the board. “Whatever decision is made by the board will be respected.”

Sobhia Quadri, who is leading a petition drive in Jericho to get the religious days recognized, said community members hope to work collaboratively with the board toward that end.

“We are very hopeful with the board,” she said in an interview before the meeting. “We know the board is very supportive of the community and including all the ethnicities.”

She said the demographics “have changed a lot in Jericho in the last few years.”

If the board is reluctant to approve the holidays because of scheduling problems, she said she hopes they will reconsider.

“We would hope the board would recognize the diversity we have and how we can honor them and their holidays,” she said. “New York City has done it and Syosset has done it and we’re kind of piggybacking on their success.”

The Syosset school district on Monday night recognized Diwali — the Hindu festival of lights — as well as Eid al-Fitr and another Muslim holy day, Eid al-Adha — the Sacrifice Feast that concludes the annual pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj — as school holidays after residents presented petitions seeking the designation. That has led to a groundswell among Hindus and Muslims in at least 10 other communities on Long Island seeking to do the same in their districts.

Residents are posting online petitions, and a group of Muslims from around the region met Thursday night at the Long Island Islamic Center mosque in Westbury to talk about getting the days made into school holidays.

But Jericho officials indicated they will not move so fast on the idea, and that creating the school holidays would not be easy. They said they received a petition this week about the issue.

“Making a request to add three days into our calendar — which could lead to people requesting four, five, six days into our calendar — is something that needs to be studied to see if it is workable,” Grishman said.

Jericho has what may be the longest school calendar in the state — 186 days — and adding in more holidays is complicated if the district wants to maintain that number of school days, he said. Many years the district starts classes the week before Labor Day so it can fit in all 186 days.

The district, which has a large Chinese population, this year started recognizing the Lunar New Year as a holiday, but that decision took several years of study and deliberation, Ferro said.

Grishman said there are all kinds of factors to consider, such as which dates the holidays fall on. Eid al-Fitr, for instance, falls in the middle of Regents testing in June 2018.

Grishman and Ferro both said the district highly values its diverse population. “Jericho has a long history of celebrating diversity,” Grishman said. But “a decision on closing to celebrate a holiday is only a very small piece of the bigger picture of how we handle diversity and understand it within our school family.”

Some institutions, such as Stony Brook University, have stopped recognizing all religious holidays to avoid honoring only some religions and to avoid cutting into the academic calendar too much.


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