What are Eids?
There are 2 major holidays on the Muslim calendar:
1. Eid al-Fitr is a celebration to mark the end of the month of Ramadan.
2. Eid al-Adha marks the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.
When are Eids?
Although Eids are always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year, since the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar. This difference means Eids move 11 days earlier in the Gregorian calendar every year. Here are the dates of the Eids for the next few years:
- Eid al-Fitr 2013: Friday August 9th. (Schools already closed for summer break)
- Eid al-Adha 2013: Tuesday October 15th. (Schools open as normal)
- Eid al-Fitr 2014: Monday July 28th. (Schools already closed for summer break)
- Eid al-Adha 2014: Sunday October 5th. (Schools already closed for the weekend)
- Eid al-Fitr 2015: Saturday July 18th. (Schools already closed for summer break)
- Eid al-Adha 2015: Thursday September 23rd. (Schools already closed for Yom Kippur)
- Eid al-Fitr 2016: Wednesday July 6th. (Schools already closed for summer break)
- Eid al-Adha 2016: Monday September 12th. (School calendar not yet set)
How are Eids celebrated?
Throughout the world people celebrate Eids by attending prayer service at the mosque in the morning and then spending the rest of the day feasting with family and friends.
What do Muslim staff and students in MCPS currently do on Eids?
Currently the thousands of Muslim MCPS staff and students have to choose between their education and observing their religious practices. They either skip school (an excused absence) to celebrate Eids or they skip their religious observances to attend school. Many choose to do the latter. However, this is not a choice that, for the most part, our Christian and Jewish neighbors face on their high holidays.
Alternatively, many Muslims attend religious services at the mosque in the mornings and then come to school late.
I have heard that some Muslims celebrate Eids on different days. Is that true?
Like Easter and Passover, the occurrence of Eid is determined by the lunar calendar. Historically, Muslims have used actual moon-sightings to determine when Eids would be. This led to a situation where Muslim communities would celebrate Eid on different days depending on when they sighted the moon. Moon-sighting was non-deterministic and unreliable due to cloud cover.
There is an over-arching Islamic religious body known as the "Fiqh Council of North America" (FCNA).The opinions and position of the FCNA are widely respected and followed by many/most American Mosques. In 2006, the FCNA put out a ruling recognizing fixed dates for Eids well in advance. The majority of mosques in Montgomery County and the overwhelming majority of Muslim residents now celebrate Eids on the same days according to a fixed schedule known well in advance.
How many Muslim people are there in Montgomery County? How does this number compare to the number of Christian and Jewish people?
The reality is that nobody really knows the true number of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, etc that live in Montgomery County. The US Census does not ask this question in its survey. MCPS is barred by law from asking students or staff their religion. So there is no way of knowing how many people of any faith live in Montgomery County or attend MCPS. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the Muslim community is a large and growing community in Montgomery County numbering in the tens of thousands at least. The total population of Montgomery County is one million people.
Does MCPS close for religious holidays of other faiths?
Yes. As you can see here, MCPS closes for Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Passover. We know that Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah were granted as school closings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Schools have been closing on the Christian holidays for as long as anyone can remember.
Isn't it unconstitutional to close public schools for a religious holiday? Don't school closings need to be justified by absenteeism, instead of religious accomodations?
Absolutely not. MCPS closes for numerous other religious holidays without being able to show any evidence that it is connected to absentee rates. There is no legal argument that makes school closings on Muslim holidays unconstitutional while making school closings for other faiths constitutional.
Do any school systems in the US close for Eid holidays?
Yes. Multiple public school districts across the US close school on one or both of the Eids. Here is a list of such school districts that we know about:
The number of Muslim students in MCPS is lower than the number of Jewish and Christian students. Why not wait until there are more Muslims?
There is simply no way for anyone to know this. We don't know how many Muslims, Christians or Jews there are in MCPS. Although it is almost certain that the number of Christians exceeds the number of Muslims, we simply don't know how the numbers of Muslims and Jews compares. Anyone who asserts such facts should be asked to produce actual data to back it up. We have not seen any and we are pretty sure such data does not exist.
What is the history of MCPS closing on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
As best as anyone seems to be able to recall, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, MCPS granted school closings on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. These two school closings were not granted at the same time. There was an approximately 1-2 year gap between the two. We don't know which of these two school closings was granted first. These events occurred over 40 years ago in the pre-computing age. We are forced to rely on scant records and distant memories of people who were associated with MCPS at that time to piece together how these events unfolded.
We have been told that in the early 1970s, it became necessary to shut down MCPS on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because there were too many absent teachers and it was difficult to find substitutes. However MCPS doesn't have any attendance records for that period. We also know that in the 1970s, when a school principle needed a substitute teacher, he or she would simply go down a list of a few known substitutes manually calling each one until a match was found. Of course such a system is far less effective than MCPS's current substitute-matching system which uses computers and automated dialers to reach a huge pool of substitutes that are available for the entire county school system. Absent any hard data or records, there is no way for anyone now to judge if these two holiday closings were necessary at that time. And given technological advances it is a very unclear if they would be granted today under this rationale.
Taken together, the unknowable criteria that were used in the past by MCPS to justify school closings, and advances in computer technology together form a Catch-22 in which two religious faiths are granted permanent institutionalized privileges over all others by the MCPS system.
Why are Muslims demanding special treatment? There needs to be a religion-neutral absence threshold to determine school closings.
Montgomery County's Muslim community is absolutely not demanding special treatment. They are asking to be treated fairly and equally to their neighbors of other faiths. Jewish and Christian members of the MCPS community were granted school closings on their religious holidays without any apparent analysis of attendance records. The Muslim community does not accept being subject to different standards than their counterparts of other faiths.
We agree that in an ideal world there would be a single religious-neutral attendance-based threshold to grant school closings. However, given that MCPS schools are already closed on numerous religious holidays, there is simply no way to measure attendance on those days without revoking the school closing (which we do not advocate). How can anyone measure how many students would be absent on Easter Monday without opening schools on that day? It is simply impossible.
Anyone who suggests that we need to have fixed attendance thresholds for school closings must first explain how to measure absenteeism on the days when school are closed.
Why should all MCPS students miss classroom instruction time to accomodate the wishes of a religious minority?
There is no need for any MCPS students to miss classroom instruction time if schools were to close for Eid holidays. There is a state law that mandates at least 180 classroom instruction days per year. That won't change. If schools were to close on Eid holidays the missed days could easily be made up by slightly shortening the lengthy winter or summer breaks. Alternatively any of the many pre-existing school closings could be moved to coincide with Eid holidays, thus maintaining the same number of classroom instruction days.
What is the mechanism for MCPS to grant a school closing on Eid holidays?
The Montgomery County Board of Education has a regularly scheduled monthly meeting. At its November monthly meeting the MCPS Calendar Committee presents its proposed calendar for the next academic year to the MCBOE. The 8-member MCBOE needs a majority vote to accept it. In November 2012, the MCBOE voted 7-0 (with 1 abstention) to accept the proposed calendar for which did not grant a school closing for Eid al-Adha 2013 (October 15th).
If four or more MCBOE members make clear that they will withold their votes from any calendar that doesn't grant Eid closing(s), the Calendar Committee will be forced to propose a calendar with Eid closings.
Has Superintendent Dr. Josh Starr addressed this issue?
Somewhat. Recently Councilman George Leventhal sent a letter to Dr. Starr asking him about historical attendance data and other questions about this issue. You can see Dr. Starr's response here. In this letter Dr. Starr clearly states that MCPS does not currently have relevant attendance records for the late 1960s and early 1970s when Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah were granted as school closings.