By Amina Thomas
The school year has begun for Prince George’s County students. The COVID-19 crisis has made this an unusual time for children and families as it is the first school year that has begun with educational instruction being done remotely. This is not the only first for Prince George’s County Public system. For the first time, the Muslim holiday of Eid ul Fitr has been included as a day off for students and staff on the academic calendar for 2020-2021.
In 2016, Governor Larry Hogan put forth an executive order that required Maryland schools to begin the academic year after Labor Day and end no later than June 15th, while still adhering to the mandated 180 instructional day schedule. With this legislature, the committees that are devoted to creating the academic calendar every year now had an even more difficult time in deciding what non-federal holidays on which the schools could be closed.
Due to the consistent of the Prince George’s County Muslim Council in engaging with the Prince George’s County Board of Education members and Dr. Monica Goldson, CEO of PGCPS, the day off was finally secured. This meant many scheduled meetings and attendances at PGCPS board meetings by PGCMC and other members of the Prince George’s Muslim community organized by PGCMC member Habib Jah.
“It took six months of meetings to make the pitch and we still had to keep up the momentum of communicating with the county officials,” explained Habib Jah. “Overall, the process showed what can be accomplished by the Muslim community through civic engagement.”
Over the last decade, the amount of absences by Muslim students and staff alike on Muslim holidays have steadily climbed. In 2018 alone, there were recorded absences of over 2,000 staff members and over 22,000 students. While everyone is aware that not all of those absences were attributed to the holiday, they were significantly larger than other mass absences.
Jameelah Malik, a long-time teacher in the Prince George’s County Public School system, was quite excited, and relieved, with this year’s calendar update. “Since the Eids have been falling in the past several years towards the end of the school year, most of my personal leave has been used up. Sometimes, I had to charge my leave for Eid under sick leave, but now I won’t have to use up my sick leave! PGCPS closing for Eid ul Fitr is validation and victory for all Muslim teachers, Muslim staff, and numerous Muslim students who observe Eid ul Fitr. There are no longer worries for Muslim teachers about submitting Substitute Teacher plans either. It is in the great spirit of equality!”
With the new school year underway and an upcoming election, it is imperative that the community does not take this one victory for granted, as the continued inclusion of the Eid holiday is still up for debate. Going forward, there is no way to predict what the new landscape of the education system will look like, however, as a community we must do our best to ensure that our interests are continuously represented.