Sunday, April 29, 2007

Muslim Student holiday -- Trends

THE movement began last year when statewide tests for elementary school children were administered on Jan. 10, coinciding with Id al-Adha, a holiday that commemorates the story of Abraham and is a time of prayer and feast for the city’s Muslim community.

Muslim parents were dismayed that they were forced to choose between supporting their children’s education and observing one of their holiest days as a family.

“We couldn’t go to prayer with our children,” said Bakary Camara, a Gambian father of five who lives in Highbridge in the Bronx.

Mr. Camara responded to the situation by joining the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays, a group made up of more than 50 labor, community and religious organizations that was formed last April. The organization is urging the city Department of Education to include two Muslim holidays, Id al-Adha and Id al-Fitr, the end of the monthlong Ramadan fast, on the city’s public school calendar.

Exactly how many of the city’s students are affected by the situation is unknown. The coalition estimates that 12 percent of public school students are Muslim. The Department of Education does not keep statistics based on students’ religion.

Currently, students who miss a day of school for religious observance receive an excused absence. But despite the efforts of the coalition, which in mid-March released a report setting out their case and two weeks later held a public forum at a West Bronx school attended by about 350 people, the Education Department seems unlikely to change its stance any time soon.

“We are not adding any more holidays to the school calendar,” said Dina Paul Parks, a department spokeswoman, adding that the schedule of religious holidays hasn’t been altered since the early 1960s.

But an excused absence isn’t good enough for coalition members, or for State Senator John Sabini of Queens and Bronx Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. Although the Education Department turned down the coalition’s request last May, both legislators have introduced bills within the past two months to make the holidays official for the city’s public schools.

“There’s a lot of parents who take attendance very seriously and they don’t want that blemish,” said Mr. Diaz, whose district includes Soundview, where the Muslim immigrant Amadou Diallo was killed in 1999.

Mr. Sabini, who represents many South Asian Muslims in Jackson Heights, said: “Excused absences just alienate students from the rest of their classmates. We don’t have excused absences for Christmas or Yom Kippur.”

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