How Does Central Treat Diverse Holidays?

Students and staff members celebrate religious holidays that are not recognized on the school calendar. How does the school try to respect their observances?

Amaya Salazar, J2 Journalism Student

It is winter and students across the nation prepare for a two-week break to spend their Christmas and Christmas Eve at home, homework-free. Students enjoy the snow, the holidays with friends and family. Students can’t imagine not having a break from the stress of school for their holidays. 

But for Muslim students, their most important holidays aren’t recognized in the school district. Why?

For Muslims Eid is one of the most important holidays of their faith. If we can have the major and minor holidays of the Jewish and Christian faith shouldn’t schools be making Eid an official holiday? 

Teachers seem to be less informed about not only Eid but other minor holidays of different religions which can create a lack of understanding between teachers and students. Is it the school’s responsibility to educate staff on upcoming holidays? What should the school be doing to accommodate the growing number of religiously diverse students?

I do believe that there is more that we can do to make teachers aware of religious observances”

— Dr. Jeffrey Moore, Superintendent

Sophomore Simra Falak describes her personal experience calling out of school for Eid when informing her teachers of her absence. “Most teachers are very nice about it, [but] some get annoyed and say that I need to make up for work,” she said. ”Some teachers educate themselves but most don’t know what it is.” 

She also describes how she has to follow the same deadlines as the rest of the class despite missing school that day. “I always have to make up work and turn it in before the deadline.” It seems Muslim students don’t receive accommodations during their holiday 

Emaly Elmenshawy, a Social Studies Teacher at Hunterdon central mentions that staff and students get an email from the current acting principal Mr. Brandt. ”All the teachers get weekly messages from Mr. Brandt and Dr. Moore about what is happening in the school, important things to know, but Eid is never mentioned,” she said. ”Sometimes they mention Jewish holidays, but not all Jewish holidays, just like the major ones that coincide with Christian holidays.” 

She also mentions the student’s position when informing teachers of their absence. “It makes it awkward,” Elmenshawy said. She goes on talking about a specific student. “She only took the morning off because she had a test in the afternoon– that puts you in a bad position”.

Dr. Moore, superintendent of Hunterdon Central spoke about the school’s policy concerning absences regarding religious holidays. “A student who is absent from school for observing a religious holiday shall not be deprived of any award, or eligibility– or deprived of the right to take an alternate test or examination that was missed.” He cited District Policy 5200. 

He also commented about the school’s role in informing teachers about holidays. “I do believe that there is more that we can do to make teachers aware of religious observances, both to streamline makeup work and tests and to contribute to the understanding of and appreciation for diversity in our school,” he said.

In the past the school did try to reach out to different religious communities about holidays schools should take off for. 

Yaser Elemnshawy, former president of the ICHC, had met with former Superintendent Christina Steffner because, at the time, the Jewish community was asking for a second holiday, and the school didn’t think it was fair because other communities were getting holidays themselves. “Based on that, she looked at how they could give the Muslim and Hindu communities one holiday a year.  They ran into problems with scheduling and it never materialized,” he said. 

The discussions between the school and ICHC were “mainly functional (how to determine the day of Eid) since it wasn’t about convincing them about the need for adding it to the school list of observed holidays.” 

The Muslim community emphasized that the interactions between the school and the community weren’t begging. Elemnshawy believes getting Eid to be an official holiday would be good. “Muslim students would feel validated. I am not one that thinks this is necessary because I think that ideally, Muslims should be confident enough in themselves and their religion to not need someone else’s validation,” he said.

He thinks that Muslim students should be comfortable with their own holidays and beliefs and not need validation in order to celebrate their holidays accordingly.