Muslims in school
Nadeem Mazen, Cambridge city councilor, Muslim and founder of JetPAC, speaks to students in the AP Government class at Al-Noor Islamic high school in Mansfield, Massachusetts, Feb. 2, 2017. Reuters

The president of a board of education in Nassau County, New York, has faced criticism after citing President Donald Trump in its school district’s decision to including the two holiest Islamic holidays on the school calendar from next year. The Central High School District in Valley Stream unanimously approved a motion last week that would add Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid-al-Adha, a four-day celebration of when God appeared to Abraham, to the calendar from 2018.

At least 25 percent of students in some Valley Stream schools are Muslim, according to the board of education’s president Cristobal Stewart. There were said to be 225 to 250 absences, around five percent of students, on Eid al-Adha last September. That number would have been higher if it weren’t for many Muslim students feeling pressured to attend class, superintendent of the school district, Bill Heidenreich, said last December.

Yet, while there appeared widespread support for a move that followed in the footsteps of New York City schools in 2015, Stewart’s justification for it has led to a backlash.

“This is about the emergence of a community in the time of Trump,” Stewart told Newsday last week. Local Muslims are making valuable contributions in Valley Stream “that contrasts with the hateful rhetoric coming from our federal government.”

The president of the Valley Stream Teacher’s Association, Patrick Naglieri, spoke of his disappointment at Stewart’s intervention into political issues and that the board of education needed to respond.

“If he was speaking for the school board I think that’s disappointing for that issue to be politicized,” he told the Long Island Herald in a message mirrored by multiple local residents. “If the school board is silent on it, they are acquiescent to it.”

Stewart, though, responded by stating that he couldn’t see the problem with his comments.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me, actually,” he said. “Newsday did an interview with me as a board member, and I spoke about my views as a board member. I think that’s where my responsibility ends.”

Trump has been blamed by many for an increase in incidents of hate against the Muslim community since he launched his campaign for president in 2015. And his calls for a Muslim ban and subsequent ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority nations has been met with local resistance across the country.

When the order was issued last month, causing widespread chaos at airports across the country, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was one of the local officials to speak out against it and offer legal assistance to those detained.

But Trump has taken a tough stance with local bodies resisting his policies. Last month, he threatened to cut federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities” that shield undocumented immigrants.