The Baltimore County school system has proposed a calendar for the 2006-2007 academic year that does not include days off for the two most religious Muslim holidays, despite more than a year of lobbying by the Muslim community.
The proposed calendar, which does include a day off for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, will be presented to the school board tonight. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal next month.
Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore County Muslim Council, said he would continue fighting for the schools to close for Muslim holidays.
"I probably will have hope until the minute the board will approve or disapprove the calendar," he said yesterday.
Pharoan, who sits on the 26-member calendar committee that advises Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, said the committee did not vote on a proposed calendar and was not encouraged to reach consensus this year -- moves he felt were meant to silence him.
"I told the superintendent, `What are we meeting for?'" he said.
Pharoan said he was also upset that Hairston has not appointed a task force to study how the calendar is created, as he said he would in January after a request by school board member Michael P. Kennedy. Kennedy has said the purpose of such a task force would be to find common ground with the Muslim community.
School system spokesman Charles A. Herndon said Hairston was "moving with deliberate speed" to appoint a committee, but "there really is no timetable set up at this point."
Herndon said Hairston did consider the viewpoints of everyone on the calendar committee in developing the proposal.
Since early last year, Muslim parents, students and community activists have turned out at every county school board meeting asking the district to close school on Eid al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which celebrates the Quranic account of God's allowing Abraham to sacrifice a sheep instead of his son.
Alternatively, the group says it would be satisfied if schools remained open on the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. (The proposed calendar does not include a day off for Rosh Hashana because it falls on a Sunday in fall of 2006. The calendar for the 2005-2006 academic year is set.)
District officials say that closing schools on Muslim holidays would set a precedent the system would have to follow for any number of other religious and ethnic groups. But they do not want to retract the Jewish holidays that have been part of the calendar since 1995.
Before schools began closing for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, district officials said, some schools had been so empty they risked state sanctions for low attendance and had been unable to find enough substitute teachers.
Kennedy, the school board member perceived as most sympathetic to the Muslims' request, said the calendar is skewed toward Christianity and Judaism.
"I wouldn't mind seeing the Muslim holidays in the calendar, to be honest with you," he said yesterday.
In December, a state education department committee proposed that public school students across Maryland be given up to two "floating holidays" for religious observances. The proposal was designed to satisfy Baltimore County's Muslim community, but Pharoan said he would not be happy so long as schools are closed on the Jewish holidays and open on the Muslim holidays.
The State Board of Education has not acted on the proposal.