Secular schooling

Removing references to religion in schools’ breaks for the best

It is impractical to close public schools for all religious holidays.

There was a recent uproar amongst the communities of Montgomery County over the decision by the board of education to eliminate all references to religious holidays on the 2015-2016 school calendar. This indignation is misguided and mistaken.

The decision from the school board came as a response to a petition by Muslim leaders in the community to grant equal billing to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha. The reasoning behind the decision was that this would effectively give equal footing to all holidays.

Many members of the Montgomery County community disagreed with this decision, and students of the UMBC community echoed these thoughts.

Asfiya Mariam, a Muslim and junior biology major with a psychology minor, doubted the decision’s effectiveness. “By just covering up the problem, by pushing it under a rug, it doesn’t solve the problem itself. Removing the names off holidays from the calendar isn’t an effective way to deal with the situation,” she said.

She added, “It almost sounds as if the county officials don’t want to deal with the problem. They have to understand that religious holidays are an integral part to the upbringing of a child in a religious household.”

Julian Tash, a Jewish freshman and Asian studies and history double major, felt similarly. “I think that it slightly offensive. By removing the names of these religious holidays, the board is denying that these breaks are religious This gesture doesn’t change the nature of the breaks, so it is unfair to say that the board is more equitable simply because the breaks do not have religious names,” she said.

Both of these students make excellent points, however, it needs to be taken into account what would happen if the Montgomery County board of education were to actually close schools for all religious major holidays.

Under the current status quo, absences on the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha amounted to a little over 5.6%, and school officials noted that this was only a bit higher than on any other given school day. If schools were to close on this religious holiday, then the other 94% of students would miss out on a viable school day as well.

Furthermore, if schools were closed on holidays for all religious days, many of our viable school days would be further trimmed down. We would have to grant holidays for small denominations such as Taoists, Buddhists, Pagans and many others. Finally, it should be recognized that this would do a disservice to Atheist children who would be excluded by the policy.

Excluding Saturdays and Sundays, there are only about 261 school days. Montgomery County is required by law to have a minimum of 180 school days. Granting days off for all religious holidays would simply not be practical, if even possible.

Having said this, it must be considered that winter break and other school holidays still do coincide with Christian religious holidays. While this may be considered unfair, it should be recognized that this is merely a matter of practicality. Keeping schools open on Christmas would result in a vast majority of students not showing up. This is not the case for keeping schools open for religious holidays of a minority group.

It should be noted that religious holidays are still treated as excused absences, and children are given the opportunity to make up missed school work.

Ultimately, school officials have to be in the service of the public, all while being lawful and practical. Removing all mentions of religion from the school calendar achieves the goal of keeping a secular state and serving the best interests of the public.

To read the counter argument to this piece, click here