The Valley Stream Central High School District is the latest school system on Long Island to recognize a Muslim or Hindu holy day as a school holiday, and did so partly in response to what its board president called attacks on Muslims by President Donald Trump.
The district’s board of education voted 9-0 Tuesday night to make Eid al-Fitr, one of the holiest days of the year for Muslims, a school holiday in the next academic year. It will fall on June 15, 2018.
Cristobal Stewart, president of the high school district’s board, said there was growing community support to make Eid al-Fitr a school holiday, and Trump’s rhetoric and travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries made it even more imperative.
“It is important that we make a statement about religious tolerance and recognition of the positive diversity in our community, including the diversity of our Muslim community,” he said.
The district’s three high schools and junior high school serve grades seven through 12. Trustees of the three local elementary school systems — Valley Stream Districts 13, 24 and 30 — earlier acted to recognize Eid al-Fitr as a holiday.
Since October, when Syosset became the first school district in New York to recognize the Hindu holy day of Diwali along with Eid al-Fitr, several districts in Nassau or Suffolk have followed suit with one or both of those holidays, as well as another Muslim holy day, Eid al-Adha. They include East Meadow, Elwood, Half Hollow Hills, Harborfields, Herricks and Hicksville.
On Monday night, the East Williston board voted to make Diwali and Eid al-Fitr school holidays.
Valley Stream’s Stewart said at least 25 percent of students in some of the district’s schools are Muslim.
“This is about the emergence of a community in the time of Trump,” Stewart said. Local Muslims are making valuable contributions in Valley Stream “that contrasts with the hateful rhetoric coming from our federal government.”
“He’s talking about my neighbor. He’s talking about people that as a Christian I am called to love,” Stewart added. “The head of my religion, Jesus Christ, says that is something I am called to do. He doesn’t have a Muslim exception in that statement.”
The Trump administration has argued that the travel ban and a freeze on refugees coming into the country are needed to ensure procedures are in place to prevent terrorists from coming here. Currently, judges have halted continued implementation of the travel ban, and legal challenges have been mounted in several states.
Eid al-Fitr comes at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which the faithful fast from sunrise to sunset. Diwali, a Hindu holiday that celebrates the triumph of good over evil, also is known as the “Festival of Lights.” The dates of the holidays change from year to year because of the lunar calendar.
“We have taken one of the most marginalized communities in America, the Muslim community, and granted it acceptance and equality within our Valley Stream community at large,” said Farrah Mozawalla, a Valley Stream resident who helped organize the effort to have Eid al-Fitr declared a school holiday.
The other major Muslim holy day, Eid al-Adha, falls in late August next year, so it was not an issue for most districts.
Some school districts with sizable Asian-American populations, including East Williston, Great Neck South, Herricks, Jericho and Syosset, have designated the Lunar New Year as a school holiday.
Valley Stream is expected to finalize its decision at its board meeting March 14 after complying with several requirements, such as approval by the teachers union, which has expressed support for the move, Stewart and other school officials said.
Beyond questions of teaching tolerance and acceptance, another reason for making Eid al-Fitr a school holiday in Valley Stream was that many students were missing school to observe the holy day, school officials said.
Support for making Eid al-Fitr a school holiday was not unanimous in the community or among school officials, Stewart said.
“It was not a home run from the very start,” he said. “There are people who had to be persuaded. It wasn’t a slam dunk by any means. There still remains resistance.”
The treatment of Muslim students in the schools, he said, remains an issue at times, he said. Some students have been harassed, called names or threatened with violence “simply for having the audacity to show up at school as a Muslim.”