For over two years, Muslim families in Bellmore and Merrick have attended Board of Education meetings to advocate for the inclusion of the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha on district calendars. Last week, their voices were heard.
At the Central High School District school board meeting on Jan. 8, President Marion Blane announced that trustees would vote to adopt the 2020-21 calendar, which includes a superintendent’s conference day on May 13, 2021, when Eid al-Fitr will be observed. The resolution was unanimously approved, and met with applause and cheers from the audience.
During Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha — whose dates change annually based on the lunar calendar — families celebrate from sunset to sunset by enjoying feasts, exchanging gifts and going on scavenger hunts in their communities. Since 2017, Muslim families have attended the Central High School, North Bellmore and North Merrick board meetings to advocate for Eid’s addition to the school calendar, arguing that observant students should not have to choose between education and faith.
At the December board meeting, four students spoke in favor of adding Eid to the calendar, and told trustees that they should be afforded the same courtesy as their peers who celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. Alisha Marfani, a freshman at Mepham High School, said that choosing between a religious holiday and school is “a choice that no kid should ever have to face.” Her sister, Summer, a Mepham sophomore, asked the board to consider the issue from the students’ point of view.
At last week’s meeting, Trustee Dr. Nancy Kaplan thanked the Muslim community for their patience as the board worked toward a consensus on the issue. She also acknowledged that she and her fellow trustees “took the time to make sure we got it right.”
“We have looked at this issue over the last 18 months in a way that I don’t think we’ve looked at any other issue except school security,” Kaplan said. “We hope with this decision, and the creativity of it and the flexibility in doing it, [that] you feel not only the care and concern, but the love and respect we have for the Muslim people in our community.”
Board Vice President Gina Piskin added that hearing the students’ testimonies touched her. “They came down here and they spoke beautifully,” she said, “and I’m glad that they can be with [their families] on Eid and not have to worry about class.”
Superintendent John DeTommaso said the board’s goal was to balance education law with the needs of the community, acknowledging Bellmore-Merrick’s growing Muslim population. Under Section 3210 of New York state’s education law, trustees must determine whether holding school on a religious holiday, such as Eid, would result “in the waste of educational resources because a considerable proportion of the student population is unlikely to attend because of a religious or cultural day of observance.”
“The kids do feel pressure to go to school in the Central High School District,” DeTommaso said, but holding a superintendent’s conference day on Eid al-Fitr in 2021 “will give families the opportunity to be together without that pressure.”
While there is no school on May 13, 2021, DeTommaso said the district would be open for professional development workshops, as well as sports games and extracurricular activities after school.
Although the Central High School District has scheduled a superintendent’s conference day on Eid in 2021, it is unclear whether all four elementary school districts will follow suit to maintain continuity across the five districts’ calendars.
“Over the last several months, our Board of Education has analyzed, researched and discussed with our attorney and component districts the request to add Eid al-Fitr to our school calendar as a day of no school,” North Bellmore Superintendent Dr. Marie Testa said in a statement.
At its meeting on Monday, the North Bellmore board adopted the district’s 2020-21 calendar, which also includes a superintendent’s conference day on Eid al-Fitr in 2021.
In a statement, Merrick Superintendent Dr. Dominick Palma said, “The Board of Education will be reviewing the ’20-21 calendar at either the January board meeting [on Jan. 14] or the February meeting.”
Bellmore Superintendent Dr. Joseph S. Famularo said that while the district’s 2020-21 calendar had not yet been adopted, any action regarding the calendar is discussed by the Board of Education prior to adoption.
North Merrick Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Seniuk declined to comment.
Editor’s note: Tuesday’s board meeting in Merrick occurred after the Herald Life went to press. Visit www.liherald.com for updates on this story.