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MoCo school board's compromise is really microaggression

"School Dumps Christmas to Appease Muslims." Technically, this biased headline from Fox News Radio is true.

Instead of acting in the spirit of true equality, by observing at least one of two major Muslim holidays during the school year, the Montgomery County School Board compromised this week by removing all religious holidays from its school calendar.

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Compromise, noun: a settlement of differences reached by mutual concessions. But what exactly has anyone given up? This decision was far from a compromise. It's also far from equal.

The Montgomery County School Board has reassured worried parents that children will still be able to observe Christmas and Easter over winter and spring break. As for Yom Kippur, students will have off because it is a day with markedly high absenteeism.

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But there is a difference between removing religious holidays from the school calendar and observing them as renamed secular days off due to student absences.

This attempt at a compromise is more than appeasement. It's thinly veiled microaggression.

Sociologists have been working on the microaggression theory since 1970, and define it is the act of unintentionally insulting or discounting the feelings of minorities, often due to ignorance.

The biased headline I quoted at the beginning of this piece? That's an example of microaggression, suggesting that Muslims are to blame for the school board's decision.

What bothers me the most about this decision are the unintended social consequences. Denying the Muslim community's request for equality means broadening a gap between their culture and the dominant culture that doesn't need to exist.

By not allowing Muslims to celebrate their holidays unimpeded, the Montgomery County School Board is further alienating a group already marginalized and too often defined in the public eye by the actions of extremists.

School board officials said schools will not close annually for Eid al-Adha because the difference in the number of absences is minimal — only 2.4 percent higher than the number of absences on an average day the week before. But in a community of 154,000 students, that adds up to more than 3,500 students struggling to catch up after missing a day of school.

The school board is trying to minimize the workload for these students by excusing absences for religious reasons and advising teachers of these holidays so they can avoid assigning tests and excessive homework. But even a day of missed classwork for four classes can take hours to make up — in addition to sports, part-time jobs and the many other responsibilities of young adults.

I appreciate that the school board is trying to do what's fair in this difficult situation. But what about what's right?

Eid al-Adha falls on the same day as Yom Kippur next year, so why create trouble where there isn't any? Spend a year observing Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious holidays. Label them as such, and make everyone feel heard.

Then review the decision next year, and if the Montgomery County School Board still thinks getting rid of all religious holidays is the best course of action, so be it.

If the school board was a company instead of an institution, they would be more inclined to listen to us. As it is, we'll just have to make our voices heard.

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In the absence of equality, it becomes our job to protect the voice of the minority. If the school board says days off are based on the number of student absences, then let us all come together to support the Muslim community. Allow your children to stay home from school on Eid al-Adha and spend the day educating them on different religions, traditions or even just the importance of diversity.

For anyone residing in other counties, let your school board know how you feel about the issue. Hold them to a standard of higher equality in a country that struggles to separate church and state. If religion will be present, allow it to be present equally.

Instead of using this as yet another thing that tears us apart, let's use it as an opportunity to come together. Freedom of religion is one of America's strongest values — and that's something we can all agree on.

Katie Carroll is a recent graduate of Salisbury University, where she studied English and communications. Her email is katiecarroll821@hotmail.com.

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