Massachusetts schools to observe Muslim holidays shortly
School system acknowledges growing number of Muslim students
Acknowledging that American society is becoming increasingly diverse, public schools in Cambridge, Massachusetts will start to make it easier for Muslim students to honor their highest holy days. Cambridge will close schools for one Muslim holiday each year beginning in the 2011-2012 school year. Schools will either close for Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, depending on which holiday falls within the school year. If both fall within the school calendar, the district will close for only one of the days.
State and federal laws require schools to make reasonable accommodation of the religious needs of students and in observance of holy days.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The decision, announced last month, comes at a time when acknowledging the Muslim faith in the United States has reached a broiling point. Discussion and controversy has swelled over a Mosque proposal to be built two blocks from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York along with Florida preacher Terry Jones's threat to burn a Korans. The discussion has also touched local schools, as Wellesley school officials drew criticism recently for a video that showed sixth-grade students kneeling during a prayer service at a Boston mosque during a field trip in May.
Cambridge School Committee member Marc McGovern, who favors the measure, said he thinks people need to take a step back from what he called hysteria and the stereotypes of all Muslims as terrorists.
"At a time when I think the Muslim population is being characterized with a broad brush in a negative way, I think it's important for us to say we're not going to do that here," McGovern says.
McGovern points out that Cambridge schools already close for some Christian and Jewish holidays, and McGovern said he believes Muslims should be treated equally.
"The issue that sort of came up was should we celebrate any religious holidays, but there was not the will to take away Good Friday or one of the Jewish holidays," he said. "So I said, if that is the case, I think we have an obligation to celebrate one of the Muslim holidays, as well."
State and federal laws require schools to make reasonable accommodation of the religious needs of students and in observance of holy days, but the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education leaves the decision about how to do that up to individual school districts because they "know best about the needs and unique demographic makeup of their student population and community," a spokesman for the department says.
If a school district has a large number of students who observe Good Friday and would not attend school that day, the districts are allowed to close because of the expected low attendance. But the state does require districts to schedule at least 180 days of school.
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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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