NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – A New York City councilman and 12 colleagues have sponsored a resolution calling on the state to require the Department of Education to incorporate the Muslim holidays of Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha as observed holidays in the city’s public school calendar.
Immediately Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Resolution 1281 a “slippery slope,” saying students cannot afford more days off. “When you have a city as diverse as we do, with virtually every religion known to man practiced, if we closed school for every single day there wouldn’t be any school,” news reports quoted the two-term mayor as saying.
“The mayor’s reaction is not a surprise to me,” Councilman Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan), a Muslim, told The Final Call. “This resolution is clearly important because it shows respect for Islam,” the councilman added. “It also says to those who say no, are you willing to change as the population of New York City has changed?”
The resolution quotes from data supplied by Columbia University’s Middle East Institute’s NYC Project, which says the estimated Muslim population in the city is 600,000 people. According to the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays, 12 percent of NYC school students are Muslim, with 95 percent of Muslim school-age children attending public schools.
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-Queens) told The Final Call it was a “no-brainer” to support Resolution 1281. “I have at least seven mosques in my district. It is important to show that we will do whatever we can to work with all communities,” the deputy speaker of the council said. “If you are part of the city then you should be respected and acknowledged as everyone else is,” Councilman Comrie added.
A blogger, commenting in the New York Sun, the newspaper that broke the story, said, “school closings were old union negotiated holidays from back in the day when many of the teachers and students were Jewish; and that there is now a different demographic in the city.”
The state Department of Education’s website lists the following school closings: Rosh Hashanah (two days), Good Friday; non-religious holidays are Columbus Day, Presidents Day, Election Day, Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Day. Calls to education officials were not returned.
Councilman Jackson said the resolution has been reported back to the city council Education Committee, which he chairs. “Right now the ball really is in the state’s court,” he said, referring to a bill sponsored by State Sen. John Sabini (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Rueben Diaz Jr. (D-Bronx). If passed, it would smother the city’s opposition by forcing the schools to close on both days–as New Jersey schools already do in Atlantic City, Irvington and Trenton.
Sen. Sabini has said in the past that the size of the Muslim population in NYC means it’s time to talk about recognizing Islamic holidays.
Councilman Jackson said the success of the bills also depends on the proactive stance of the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays. “The coalition has to get out and communicate with legislators who aren’t aboard yet,” he said.
The coalition, which comprises some 50 labor, religious, community and advocacy groups flexed its collective muscle after a Jan. 2006 statewide test was scheduled on Eid Ul-Adha. Muslim reaction was fierce enough to force legislators to pass a law preventing mandatory state testing from occurring on any religious holidays.