By Matt Petraglia
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Local residents urged the Baltimore County Board of Education Tuesday night to include Jewish and Muslim holidays on the 2020-2021 school calendar that is scheduled to be adopted at the panel’s Nov. 5 meeting.
Dr. Hania Habeeb said she attended county’s school system and always felt “torn” having to choose between celebrating the Muslim holidays with her family and community or keeping her perfect attendance.
Today, 20 years later, she said her three nephews face the same struggles.
“Our community, state and county are multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious,” Habeeb said. “What we’re seeking is simply equity and equality for the Muslim community. We want to eliminate the alienation and teach our children to be proud of their identity, “but we need examples of inclusion from institutions, such as the Board of Education.”
The current school calendar gives students the day off for the Jewish holidays Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, but the board is considering a calendar for next year that would change those days from religious holidays that everyone gets off to professional development days that would allow students to stay home but require staff to work.
“We’ve taken a step backwards this year,” said Sara Feldman, a parent of two BCPS students. “For so many years, [BCPS] were closed for both students and staff on the two holidays.” [The change], she said is “very difficult for us.”
Howard Libit, the executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, echoed those comments during his testimony to the board.
He also suggested that the school system move regularly scheduled Friday night football games that fall on the first night of Rosh Hashana to the day before. Libit said this arrangement worked well in previous years.
The public testimony came as the school board is considering three options for the 2020-2021 school year:
- Option A: Pre-Labor Day start with 10-day Spring Break
- Option B: Post-Labor Day start with five-day Spring Break
- Option C: Post-Labor Day start with 10-day Spring Break
Resident Dayana Bergman said the annual school calendar should be put together with the education of children as the central focus – not which holidays will be included.
“I’ve seen so many members of the public come in and ask about this holiday off and this paid holiday and then the bus drivers say, ‘We don’t get that paid holiday anymore because they made it professional development,’’’ Bergman said. “Everybody is talking about their favorite holiday and I’m here thinking, ‘Oh my, isn’t the calendar supposed to be how we best educate our children academically.”
Regardless of that sentiment, most of those who spoke during the board meeting said it is important for families to have the option of celebrating holidays together.
Dr. Bash Pharoan, a Syrian immigrant who has been a U.S. citizen for over 40 years, said his family has long struggled between faith and education. Muhammad Jameel of Reisterstown agreed.
“The needs of [Muslim] students beg that you close on Muslim holidays,” Jameel said.
Penny Graubart, a 15-year BCPS employee, explained the conflict of being a Jewish employee and having to choose between her professional and personal life.
“We are all equal,” said resident Sharon Saroff. “We all deserve our days off.”
The board will vote on the final calendar at its next meeting on Nov. 5.