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Eid and other religious holidays don’t make it into Gwinnett County school calendar
GCPS Board of Education announced on Thursday it would stick with similar calendar to previous ones for the next two academic years
The calendar the district will be going forward with is similar to previous calendars, after votes from community members came in and that option received the most votes.
That means students in Gwinnett County schools who celebrate religious holidays like Eid, Yom Kippur, and Diwali, won’t get days off, despite an ongoing push to make Eid a school holiday.
Some parents who spoke at GCPS’s monthly Board meeting when the announcement was made, as well as at least one school Board Member, said that the failure to approve a calendar that would give students days off for religious holidays, was a missed opportunity to show equity and inclusion, especially at a time when anti-semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise nationally, as well as in Georgia.
“I feel like they should have stepped up,” said Sophia Naviwala, a GCPS parent who’s been advocating alongside other Muslim parents to get Eid holidays recognized.
This year, for the first time, GCPS opened up the calendar and put it to a vote. Over 26,000 GCPS parents, students, and staff cast their votes earlier this fall- selecting one of four calendar options. Two of the options included days off for Eid al-Fitr, Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Diwali. “We understand that the survey results may be disappointing to some, especially those who voted for a different calendar,” read a GCPS statement.
Dr. Tarece Johnson, GCPS’s Board Chair, was among those who were disappointed. “Although the majority of people did not vote for the inclusive calendar, I still think it’s important for us to do the right thing like many other major districts in the nation,” she said at the monthly board meeting on Thursday. “The decision to not have an inclusive calendar is a decision we see trickled down in other areas…if students don’t feel belonging and don’t feel their cultures are respected…it’s a big deal.”
As a Black Jewish person, Dr. Johnson said she had been deeply impacted by recent events. “When we think about what’s happening in our nation with our Jewish community, Muslim community…it’s important we recognize the importance of humanity and human dignity.”
The movement to get Eid as a day off has been gaining momentum since 2022, when then 14-year-old GCPS student Noor Ali launched a petition that garnered over 12,000 signatures.
GCPS did not end up recognizing Eid as a day off for the 2023-24 school year. The school district, said GCPS spokesperson Bernard Watson, has to weigh multiple factors. “It involves considering numerous parameters and community expectations.” The main concern of community members, he said, was keeping existing breaks intact.
Watson added that the district does take steps to be sensitive to the needs of its Muslim students, like making sure religious holidays like Eid are counted as excused absences, and providing accommodations during Ramadan, when many Muslim students are fasting.
Keeping up with the needs of schools in the county, which represents students from 133 different countries and 110 languages, is no easy task, but GCPS Superintendent Calvin Watts has says he’s committed to it.
In a recent episode of “Coffee with Calvin,” a GCPS produced video series, he celebrated the addition of halal items to school lunch menus, while sitting next to GCPS student Asma Naviwala (Sophia’s daughter) and biting into a halal burger. “This is certainly in line with our blueprint for the future, particularly with empathy and effectiveness in mind, and doing our very best to meet the needs of our richly diverse communities.”
Nationally, an increasing number of school districts have been adjusting their school calendars to recognize Eid. Three counties in Florida - Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach- all made changes to the 2023-24 calendar to ensure kids wouldn’t have to come to school on Eid. They joined a growing list: school districts in New Jersey, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and New York also recognize Eid.
Thirteen-year-old Asma is hoping that eventually she’ll get a day off on Eid. Last year, she missed a drama performance that she had rehearsed a lot for, she said. Another year, she had to take multiple makeup exams. Plus, she said, recognizing a student’s religious holiday helps them feel seen. “It’s important to show people that you care.”