After receiving complaints from Muslim residents, one district decided to require public schools to add Islamic holidays to the calendar “to show respect for the Muslim culture.”
As the Muslim population grows in the U.S., debate surrounding if and how public schools should incorporate Islam into the social and curricular components continues. However, since this religious minority has raised numerous concerns about the crossover and subsequent dilemma of faith and education, school districts are being forced to confront the sensitive topic and provide the community with resolutions, which expectedly leave one side or the other unsatisfied.
In Connecticut’s Waterbury School District, officials were faced with a controversial predicament — ignore the complaints of Muslim families or satisfy the concerns of non-Muslim parents. After being presented with requests from several Muslim residents urging the district to observe Islamic holidays, the school board was compelled to make a final decision.
According to local outlet WTNH, one of Connecticut’s districts has ruled that its schools will be required to honor two of Islam’s holiest days. In accordance with the religious beliefs, the Waterbury Board of Education voted to recognize these holidays by preventing schools from scheduling exams, field trips, or major school events during these times.
After receiving a petition of more than 300 signatures, the board decided to honor the Islamic faith by allowing practicing Muslim students to skip school on these days without fear of missing important curricular events. Superintendent Dr. Cathleen Ouellette explained that the board hopes to “show respect for the Muslim culture” with its ruling.
Parent Fahd Syed, who was in attendance during the board’s decision, expressed his delight with the ruling. He explained that he is glad his four children won’t have to choose between their faith and education on these particular dates.
“Growing up in Waterbury myself and going to school here, I missed a trip because of the holiday,” said Syed. “I had to choose my faith and I didn’t go to the trip. That was in the third grade at Washington Elementary.”
Waterbury Board of Education President Charles Stango told WTNH that the point of the change is to allow Muslim students to stay true to their religious convictions while also honoring their educational requirements. He reiterated that, although they will not be shutting the schools down for the days, they are going to ensure that observers are not penalized for missing school.
“We were approached about this, and we thought about it, and honored it,” said Stango.
Superintendent Dr. Cathleen Ouellette concluded that parents would be notified of the changes, adding that they are expected to be “sensitive” to the religious convictions of Muslim residents.
“A sensitivity memo will go out to the district to teachers and staff, asking them to be sensitive to the Muslim holidays in regards to scheduling assessments and major events that happen through the district,” said Dr. Ouellette.
The decision marks the first of its kind in the state of Connecticut. However, the ruling hasn’t come without concerns from critics. While some feel that the change opens up the door to requiring schools to observe countless other religious holidays, others insist that faith should be kept separate from the public education system. Of course, how much separation can and should be implemented remains to be seen.