Montgomery County criticized over public school religious holiday policy

Why are Montgomery County schools open on religious holidays and Veterans Day? Antiquated rationales control current policy. Photo: Students in the classroom (AP)

WASHINGTON, November 13, 2013 — This week, Montgomery County officials denied a petition by members of the local Muslim community for the recognition of certain Islamic holidays. Members of the community requested that schools be closed for the holidays, so that Muslim children could commemorate their holiday without missing class.

The County referred to the low rates of absent children on previous Islamic holidays, stating that such levels of absenteeism did not justify closing the school system. Public schools are closed in observance of the holidays of other religions, such as for Christian and Jewish holidays.

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Critics, however, note that the last time Montgomery County decided the policy regarding absenteeism for other religious holidays was in 1973, which was 40 years ago. The information came to light when Muslim community members requested information on how holidays were decided for other religious groups. After extensive research, Montgomery County school board Vice President Phil Kauffman discovered a memo from 1973 justifying closing schools for Rosh Hashanah.

In responding to the newly discovered memo, Muslim community members questioned the relevance of policy that had not been updated in decades.

“If (Kauffman) wants to live 40 years ago, that’s his choice,” Samira Hussein, a major proponent of recognizing Islamic holidays, told Gazette News.

School officials went against County Councilman George Leventhal, who believes that the current policy is arbitrary and without basis. Leventhal also believes that the rate of student and staff absenteeism on Islamic holidays is significant, and supports closure of county schools.

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County officials have responded that they will grant excused absences to any students who miss school for religious holidays. Critics respond that some families will be forced to make their children miss the holiday, so they don’t fall behind their classmates.

Parents also aren’t happy, and believe that there is clear discrimination in how students of different faiths are being treated. According to CBS DC, one parent said “An excused day off is not the solution. My children have to come back and make up tests and homework. They will miss valuable time of classroom instruction.”

The parent added “I want my children to be treated in the same way their Christian and Jewish classmates are.”

Religious groups aren’t the only ones upset, as Montgomery County public schools remain open for Veterans Day. Students are let out early, however parents are encouraged to come in during the holiday for student conferences. 

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Rahat Husain

Rahat Husain has been working as a columnist since 2013 when he joined the Communities. With an interest in America and Islam, Rahat is a prolific writer on contemporary and international issues.


In addition to writing for the Communities, Rahat Husain is an Attorney based in the Washington DC Metropolitan area. He is the Director of Legal and Policy Affairs at UMAA Advocacy. For the past six years, Mr. Husain has worked with Congressmen, Senators, federal agencies, think tanks, NGOs, policy institutes, and academic experts to advocate on behalf of Shia Muslim issues, both political and humanitarian. UMAA hosts one of the largest gatherings of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslims in North America at its annual convention.


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