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Absentee Figures May Hinder School Holiday Effort

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — Absentee figures for a recent Islamic holy day may make it difficult for Muslim leaders in Montgomery County to persuade officials to make Eid al-Adha an official school holiday.

The Washington Post reports that district officials say absentee figures don’t show abnormally high rates of absenteeism on Oct. 15.

The board of education considers the school calendar at its Tuesday meeting. High rates of absence are a potential basis for adding a holiday.

Muslim leaders argue that students get days off for Christian and Jewish holidays, and adding at least one Muslim holiday is a matter of fairness.  They called on Muslim families to keep students home on Oct. 15 and encouraged non-Muslim families to do the same to show support. But district figures showed 5.6 percent of students and 5 percent of teachers were absent on Eid al-Adha, compared to 3.2 percent of students and 4.2 percent of teachers absent a week earlier.

“There is a slight increase that day, but it’s not out of the normal range of what we would see on a Tuesday,” said Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig.

School officials included teacher absences, but not all staff absences, Saqib Ali, co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition, said. The group would request data for the whole first quarter and do a full comparison, he said.

State law provides for school holidays timed with Christmas and Easter and the county began closing school for Jewish holidays in the 1970s. In a memo to the board dated Oct. 17, Superintendent Joshua Starr said the decision about Jewish holidays was a result of high absenteeism, which “impacted the delivery of instruction.” A review of attendance figures over time has not shown absences “exceptionally higher than absences on other school days.”

Under current practice, Muslim holidays are designated as non-testing days and that students who miss classes to observe the holiday are excused, he said.

“Every effort is made to assist students in completing any work that may be missed,” he said.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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