New York City public schools were scheduled to close Thursday for their first time recognizing the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. The district, which serves about 1.1 million students, was due to become the largest school system in the United States to shut down for the observance. Local Muslims welcomed the move as a symbol of the community's acceptance and shift toward inclusion, Agence France Presse reported.
They said they hoped it would become an example others would follow. “As an imam as well as a parent I am very happy,” Jamaica Muslim Center director Imam Shamsi Ali told AFP. “I’m sure this kind of policy from the government side will push Muslims further to feel a sense of belonging."
New York City has an estimated 600,000 to 1 million Muslim residents, and between 10 and 12 percent of its public school students identify as Muslim. That means that holy days tended to devastate attendance -- for example, the last time Eid al-Adha was on a school day, more than one-third of PS/IS 30 in Brooklyn was absent, according to a news release.
About two years after first agreeing to give students the day off, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the calendar change in March. He officially canceled classes on Eid al-Fitr, which occurred in July and marked the end of the fasting month Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha, also called the Feast of Sacrifice, runs from Wednesday night to Thursday night. Schools in New York City were already closed Wednesday for the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur.
Student Fadilah Barco, whose charter school previously closed for Eid al-Adha, told the New York Times in 2014 that she appreciated not having to miss lessons that other, non-Muslim students attended. It also sent a broader message. “It meant that they understood that our religion was important to us and that they cared about us,” she said.
Not everyone was so lucky. In nearby Jersey City, New Jersey, security guards were asked to intervene at a school board meeting last week when a group of Muslim parents protested the decision not to close schools for Thursday's holiday. The board said it wasn't fair to parents to declare a school holiday on such short notice, NJ.com reported.