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Members of the Muslim community stand in support of recognizing Muslim holidays in the Baltimore County Public Schools calendar.
Members of the Muslim community stand in support of recognizing Muslim holidays in the Baltimore County Public Schools calendar. (Cody Boteler/Cody Boteler)

Dr. Hania Habeeb remembers needing to choose between her Muslim faith and her education when she was growing up in Baltimore County. She’d have to pick between seeing her family on Muslim holidays, or maintaining her attendance record and staying current with her studies in school.

Muhammad Jameel, who was then a PTA president in Baltimore County, remembers speaking 35 years ago to the county’s Board of Education, asking that Muslim holidays be recognized in the school calendar. One board member, he said, had no idea what holidays he was even talking about.

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The two were among about a dozen parents, teachers and other community members who spoke Tuesday night before the Baltimore County Board of Education, urging its members to take a myriad of factors into consideration when voting next month on the school calendar.

Some asked the board to consider the economic impact of starting school too early or of letting school out too late. Others pushed the board to mark Jewish and Muslim holidays as days where school is closed rather than professional development days when teachers must work, but students stay home.

“Our county is multiracial… and multi-religious,” Dr. Habeeb said. “We are seeking ‘holiday balance’ for the Muslim community.”

The calendar proposals recognize Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday, and Eid-Al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday, as professional development days, not as days when the school system is closed. The proposals do not mention other holidays, like Rosh Hashanah or the first day of Ramadan.

The board originally heard from school system staff on a proposed calendar for the 2020-2021 school year in late September. At the time, school system staff recommended starting the school year before Labor Day; the board asked system staff to come back to the board with more options.

Staff came back with three options — two where school starts after Labor Day, and one where school starts before Labor Day.

Of the 12 speakers at Tuesday night’s meeting, one spoke in favor of the “Option A,” which starts before Labor Day and has a 10-day spring break, three in favor of “Option B,” which starts after Labor Day and has a five-day spring break. No other speakers mentioned a favorite or least-favorite calendar option.”

Board members did not offer comment about the calendar following the public testimony period. The three options, which can be reviewed online, differ in start and end dates and the length of spring break.

The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the school calendar when they meet in early November.

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