Schools proposal disturbs Muslims

Balto. Co. schools would not close for holy days

February 27, 2006|By LIZ F. KAY .. | LIZ F. KAY ..,SUN REPORTER

A Baltimore County school board committee has made recommendations about religious holidays for the school system's calendar, and a leader of the Muslim community said he is disappointed that it didn't suggest closing for two Islamic holy days.

One of the recommendations is to allow students to have two "excused absences" from school for religious holidays.

But Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore County Muslim Council, has been lobbying to close schools on two Islamic holy days since 2004 because the system closes for the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

"The main issue is that the ad hoc committee failed again to recognize that the issue is about equality," he said. "We want equal treatment."

State regulations already deem religious observance a "lawful absence," along with illness or death of a family member. But the committee suggests that the county school system go a step further by petitioning the State Board of Education to amend its regulations so "religious observance would not mar a student's official attendance record nor prevent any student from obtaining perfect attendance."

"Currently they are penalized de facto by the fact that their record indicates an excused absence," committee Chairman Luis E. Borunda said.

A state steering committee on minority achievement made a similar recommendation to the state board in 2004.

Individual school districts set policies for recognizing perfect attendance, said William Reinhard, spokesman for the State Department of Education. For example, in Howard County, students are eligible for perfect attendance regardless of religious absences, according to published reports.

Baltimore County schools spokeswoman Kara Calder said Friday that she was "not aware at this time of any schools in this system that calculate attendance using the lawful absence of religion as an exception."

Board members will discuss the recommendations tomorrow. If there is consensus, the recommendations will be sent to Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, said school board President Tom Grzymski.

The committee's other recommendations include:

Noting the Muslim holidays Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha on the calendar block of the days they are observed.

Having the school system refrain from scheduling exams on the two Muslim holidays.

Having the superintendent "make an effort to educate the county's students on the significance of these holidays during the week preceding these holidays, or at an appropriate time during the school year."

Having the superintendent monitor attendance at schools in areas where Muslims live.

Grzymski said this is the first time during his four years on the school board that members have given the superintendent any direction before the calendar is set.

Hairston has not yet appointed a calendar committee to develop recommendations for the 2007-2008 school year, Calder said. According to a school system rule, the committee should include representatives from the PTA Council of Baltimore County, the area education councils, the county student council and the teachers union.

The superintendent is required to send his proposal to the county school board for approval a year before it takes effect, Calder said.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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