SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco School District has backtracked on a decision to make Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha school holidays, sparking backlash from the local Muslim and Arab community, who say the move gives in to racist opposition.
Late last month, the San Francisco Unified School District issued a number of recommendations for adding new holidays to the school calendar, including recognizing certain religious holidays without formally labeling them holidays or closing school for those days.
“Essentially what’s happened is the district has turned its back on the Arab and Muslim community in San Francisco. They’ve found an ‘All Lives Matters’ solution to racist backlash,” Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, told the Middle East Eye.
The decision marks a major reversal for the school district, which in August had voted in favor of a resolution to add both Eid holidays — Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha — as school holidays.
“Incorporating Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha into the San Francisco Unified School District Calendar as days when schools are closed in recognition of the holidays would allow Muslim students to fully participate in these holidays and maintain equal access to their educational opportunities,” the 2022 resolution states.
However, soon after the resolution was passed, the school district was threatened with a lawsuit accusing the move to observe the Eid holiday as being a violation of the Constitution because it prioritizes one religion over others.
Several districts across the country have adopted measures to recognize certain religious holidays, including Eid, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, without similar opposition.
Kiswani said the reversal was concerning and appears to be “an indication of a wider, right-wing trend across the country that is assaulting public education.”
“And that is what’s happening here in San Francisco. It’s a reflection of a broader assault on public education.”
Community advocates say the school district has “turned its back” on Muslim and Arab students
The San Francisco area is home to 250,000 Muslims, according to a study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
Allowing Eid as a school holiday would allow Muslim students to be able to have time off to celebrate the holiday without fear of missing any instructional time at school, local advocates say.
The campaign to recognize Eid in the school district was launched in 2021 by Sara Ouchene, who was then a high school student attending Raoul Wallenberg High School.
“Growing up, I’ve always had to take a day off from school for Eid,” Ouchene told the Middle East Eye. “I would always have to get a paper from my parents in order to excuse my absence. And I would think, ‘Why do I have to ask for permission if this is an important holiday for my beliefs?'”
But the decision from the school district, made during a meeting on January 24, had blocked this years-long effort. The school district issued recommendations, including ensuring no exams or major events are scheduled for Eid. However, schools would remain open and students would have to take off if they wanted to observe the holiday.
“It’s upsetting, especially since all these like children were so excited to finally be recognized,” said Ouchene, who is now a college student attending San Francisco State University. “Since growing up, we never had that recognition.
“After all the work that we have put into it — I spent many like summers and weekends trying to go to meetings and figure out how to make this possible — and now all of that feels like it went to waste.”
But Kiswani said that she and other organizers are not giving up just yet. After issuing an action alert last week, she said the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) has already sent thousands of letters to members of the city’s board of education.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), in collaboration with the AROC, has submitted a records request seeking information about the San Francisco School Board’s recent reversal of its decision to have Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha official district holidays at schools across the city, a decision that shocked and frustrated community members.
In response to the reversal, the ADC has submitted a records request seeking information about the board’s decision-making process, including any communications, reports or other documents related to the holiday decision, in order to gain a better understanding of the factors that led to the reversal and to determine if any discriminatory or biased practices were involved.
“Access to information is crucial in holding public officials accountable and ensuring transparency in decision-making,” ADC National Executive Director Abed Ayoub said. “We hope that this records request will shed light on the factors that led to the reprehensible reversal of the decision to recognize Eid as a holiday in San Francisco schools and help ensure that the Arab and Muslim community’s rights are respected in the future.”
— Source MEE. Edited for style.