The New Haven Public Schools Governance Committee met Monday to discuss the celebration of religious holidays included in the academic calendar, focusing specifically on the possible inclusion of Muslim festivals such as Eid al-Fitr.
The committee convened at Celentano School, with speakers including committee chair Tamiko Jackson-McArthur, Board President Darnell Goldson and Director of Student Services Typhanie Jackson. Along with some local parents, the committee discussed the implications of adding Muslim religious holidays to the school calendar. The committee also talked about religious and cultural inclusion within the schools as a whole.
“It becomes to me a snowball effect because we have to really think about if we do it for someone, we do it for all, right?” Jackson-McArthur said, referring to the implications of adding more religious holidays to the academic calendar.
According to Jackson-McArthur, NHPS already offers days off for Jewish and Christian holidays, in addition to other holidays like the Puerto Rican celebration of Three Kings Day. However, questions have arisen about why Muslim holidays have not received equal attention.
Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 submitted the original resolution advocating for greater inclusion of Muslim tradition on Aug. 2, specifically noting Eid al-Fitr. In an interview with the News, Catalbasoglu said that as a child in the NHPS system, he often felt ostracized explaining his absences during Eid al-Fitr.
“I came to understand that New Haven is growing more diverse, and I think our policies and our public institutions should reflect that,” Catalbasoglu said. “In a day and age where Islamophobia has become a hot-button issue and where Islamophobic rhetoric has been spewing from Washington, D.C., I think it’s really important for New Haven residents and our public institutions to stand by our people.”
The Muslim celebrations discussed at the meeting included Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha — all of which follow the Islamic lunar calendar and therefore fall on rotating days of the year. Practicing Muslims celebrate Ramadan throughout the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, during which participants strictly fast from sunrise to sunset. Eid al-Fitr closes Ramadan with a day of celebration and worship with family. Eid al-Adha occurs during the 12th month of the lunar calendar, usually featuring a feast and a pilgrimage to Mecca.
According to the committee, additions of religious celebrations to calendars are generally decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on the cultural and religious makeup of the school in question. While Jackson suggested that the committee gather more data about the religious distribution of NHPS students, Catalbasoglu disagreed, noting his discomfort with the school system’s practice of surveying which religions students identify with.
The committee also discussed how adding days off for religious holidays involves many stepping stones, as both board administrators and the teachers’ union must agree to proposed changes in the calendar. According to Catalbasoglu, Mayor Toni Harp and the president of the teachers’ union David Cicarella have supported his initiative.
Catalbasoglu noted the growing diversity of New Haven’s leadership points to a growing diversity in New Haven’s constituents. As an example, he used the future possibility of Buddhist leaders in New Haven’s government.
“If these people are becoming elected, that must mean that they’re representing a growing number of Buddhists in New Haven,” Catalbasoglu said.
The committee discussion then delved deeper into the larger issue of religious and cultural inclusion within the public school system. For example, many winter celebrations within schools involve motifs like Santa Claus and Christmas trees, even though many children do not adhere to the traditions associated with Christmas.
However, religious objects are allowed in classrooms if they serve an educational purpose, according to Sarah Miller, a parent who attended the meeting. Miller also suggested that students who do not celebrate Christmas can still participate with their peers in a culturally-inclusive Winter Festival without any religious influence.
“The fact is that you can’t be inclusive based on religion,” Miller said.
The meeting adjourned at 5:21 p.m.
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