Muslims around the world will celebrate one of their holiest days this month. But the Muslim students in Baltimore County and every other Maryland school system who observe the holiday by missing school will be marked absent—despite efforts in the Free State to give them flexibility to take the day off.
For eight years, Dr. Bash Pharoan, the president of the Baltimore County Muslim Council, has been lobbying the county schools to adopt school holidays on Eid al-Adha—the celebration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael—and Eid al-Fitr, the festival at the end of Ramadan.
This year, Eid al-Adha falls on Jan. 21, which is a Friday.
Dr. Pharoan’s quest found its way to a committee that advises the state department of education on issues facing minority students.
Last month, the Achievement Initiative for Maryland’s Minority Students Steering Committee recommended that the state offer two floating holidays each year for students to use for religious reasons.
The recommendation from the state panel “is a step in the right direction, but it’s not what we want,” said Dr. Pharoan, a surgeon.
“We’re asking that Americans who happen to be Muslim be treated equally to Americans who happen to be Jewish,” he added.
The 108,000-student Baltimore County school system, which does not include the city of Baltimore, closes for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur—the two holiest days in the Jewish calendar.
Nancy S. Grasmick, the state schools superintendent, is reviewing the advisory panel’s request.
It is uncertain, however, that state laws governing school attendance give her the power to create floating holidays, said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland education department.
Districts could adopt floating holidays on their own, he added, but the days would need to be in addition to the 180-day school year required under state law.
State law requires schools to close from Christmas Eve through Jan. 1, and on Good Friday.
Baltimore County and some other districts also close on certain Jewish holidays.
It’s only fair, Dr. Pharoan argues, for the county to respect the holidays of Muslim students because the suburban county’s number of Muslims is about the same as its Jewish population.
A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2005 edition of Education Week