The Montgomery County Board of Education in Maryland voted 7 to 1 to scrub Christmas and other religious holidays from its published school calendar without disturbing the days off.
Montgomery School Board member Rebecca Smondrowski was flooded with angry messages after Tuesday’s decision. She had supported a proposal to strip Jewish and Muslim holy days from the calendar and offered an amendment to remove Christmas and Easter, too.
A day later, Rebecca Smondrowski stood by her decision and stressed that students would still have the holidays off; only the calendar presentation would change. The idea, she said, was to reflect that schools were not being closed for religious observances but because of high absenteeism among students and staff members on those days.
School Board Vice President Patricia O’Neill said she’s confident that the board made a good decision.
“It seems we’ve made multiple religious groups mad, but I believe we did the right thing,” she said.
“And we’re in good company. Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun – all are silent in calling out Christmas; they call it winter break.”
Montgomery’s School Board vote to eliminate calendar references to religious holidays followed an earlier request by Muslim community leaders to give equal prominence on the calendar to the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha.
Muslim leaders had for years requested that Montgomery’s schools be closed for at least one of the two major Muslim holy days. They had not succeeded, but in the 2015-2016 academic year, Eid al-Adha falls on the same day as Yom Kippur, which is a day off in Montgomery. So Muslim leaders asked for equal billing on the calendar.
Montgomery County officials note that state law requires school closings for days surrounding Christmas and Easter.
The decision to close schools for Jewish holidays goes back to the 1970s, officials say, although there has been some dispute about how high absenteeism would be on those days.
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