An issue that appeared to be lurking in the shadows took center stage in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District, and the roiling debate, I feel, has changed the dynamic of my community.
Board of Education meetings were held on Jan. 10 and Jan. 17, to discuss the 2018-19 school calendar. Although this seems like a rather mundane topic, these meetings caused a massive uproar among residents.
The Muslim community was advocating for the inclusion of the Muslim holidays Eid al Fitr and Eil al Adha on the school calendar. The primary goal was that school would be closed for these religious holidays.
Unfortunately, this desire was met with hostility. Upon walking into Hewlett Elementary School’s gymnasium on Jan. 17, people were greeted with an unexpected scene. Our community was divided: on one side of the gym room was the Muslim community members and on the other non-Muslim residents.
According to those in attendance, it was hard to find a seat in the large gymnasium, and as the meeting began, it was standing room only. As community members from both sides voiced their views, hateful slurs flew across the room. The tension only grew when 9/11 made its way into the conversation.
The bigotry that simmered across the room only grew over the course of both meetings, and it became blatantly obvious that there is a clear sense of dual racism in the community. A week after the Jan. 17 meeting and after consulting its attorney, the Board of Education decided that district schools will not close for Eid holidays next school year.
No words can express the defeat and disappointment the district’s Muslim community felt when this decision was made. The Board of Education explained that there would not be a sufficient number of students and faculty absent to justify closing the school district. Through social media, I saw the massive Muslim presences at both school board meetings, it is hard to believe this decision.
Sophia Lamsifer, a Hewlett High School senior and practicing Muslim, was devastated by the decision: “I thought the Hewlett community was progressively seeking to change for the better; evidently that is not the case. For years, I have taken off from school to celebrate and the workload I have missed has been intense. Teachers do not alter the amount of work given and expect you to make it up as though it was any other day. In my junior year, I had too many classes and too much work to make up, there was no way I could miss a day of school.”
Lamsifer is ranked in the top 10 of her class and has been a valuable member of the Hewlett-Woodmere community for more than decade. “It hurts knowing that the community doesn’t understand the importance of the holiday,” she added.
America has always been considered a melting pot of diverse people and cultures. It is important to remember where we came from and not lose sight of where we can go when we appreciate and respect everyone’s traditions.