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Pragti Shaw | HENB | Baltimore | January 16, 2016:: After considering how best to create an inclusive academic calendar — either by removing all but state-mandated public school holidays or by recognizing additional holidays — the Howard County Board of Education has voted to close schools for students on a Hindu, Chinese and a Muslim holiday, for the first time in the school system’s history.
Indian-American community hailed the decision titled Action on 2016-2017 Academic Calendar by Howard County Public School System, which manages 71 schools and serves nearly 50,000 students, as “historic”.
“I am extremely pleased by the Board’s ability to discuss and unanimously agree to seek ways to recognize the diverse backgrounds of Howard County’s students and families,” Board of Education chairwoman Christine O’Connor said in a statement after the eight member board unanimously supported such a motion.
“We want to do our best to find flexibility within the calendar to provide opportunities for all students to experience all cultures within our community,” O’Connor said.
The motion in this regard was proposed by board member Janet Siddiqui.
“By taking this vote, the Howard County Board of Education has shown a great way forward in acknowledging diverse religious holidays without violating the spirit of church-state separation,” said Murali Balaji education director of Hindu American Foundation.
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HAF and Chinmaya Mission started a petition that collected over 250 signatures in under three weeks, while the Board received nearly 500 emails from parents asking for inclusion of Diwali.
Indian students at Centennial High School (ISAC) also collected and submitted signatures for the effort, said Balaji, who along with several Chinmaya Mission members, testified at the Board’s hearing last month.
“This vote is proof that it is indeed possible to accommodate the religious needs of multiple faith communities in diverse school districts,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Maryland outreach manager Zainab Chaudry, who has submitted testimony on behalf of the Muslim community on the holiday inclusion issue.
According to Baltimore Sun, as of the 2014-2015 school year, 42 per cent of Howard County students were white, 22 per cent were black, 19 per cent were Asian, nine per cent were Hispanic and six per cent were of two or more races.
Despite of many differences, the respective body voted in favor of placing student breaks on Hindu Diwali, Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve and Islamic Eid-al-Adha in the 2016-2017 school year including two Jews festivals viz. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana.
However, this liberal attitude of Howard County Public School System is still not shown in many places in US including New York. Hindu advocacy groups in NY have been demanding Hindu holidays in NYC schools since a long time without any favorable decision from the concerned authorities.
__inputs from The Baltimore Sun and PTI.