11-Year-Old Student Petitions To Close Schools On Muslim Holidays

CHEVY CHASE, Md. (WJZ) — New efforts to get Montgomery County schools to show the same respect to Muslim holidays as they do for Christian and Jewish holy days.

Derek Valcourt explains the new push is coming from an unexpected place.

In the past, it’s been Muslim parents and Muslim community leaders arguing their faith isn’t being treated equally. But this time, it’s a non-Muslim, and it’s her age that’s even more surprising.

Eleanor Clemans-Cope, 11, isn’t just skilled with a soccer ball, she’s skilled with her words.

“It’s really not fair to give some people their holidays off and other people just don’t get holidays off,” said Clemans-Cope.

The soon-to-be sixth grader asked her fellow students at Chevy Chase Elementary School to imagine having to take an exam on Christmas or Passover.

It’s an idea so crazy that many of her fellow Christian and Jewish students began to understand why Muslim students think schools should be closed on their two most important holidays called Eid.

Soon, 170 kids signed Eleanor’s petition, asking the school board to close on the Eid holidays.

“Because I wanted them to know how many people cared,” she said.

“We’re very proud of Nora,” her father, Keary Cope, said.

Her dad says Eleanor always had a strong sense of social justice.

Valcourt: “Was this her idea?”

Cope: “This really does come from Nora.”

Last year, Muslim groups tried and failed to convince Montgomery County schools to close on the Eid holidays.

“When Eid falls on a school day, students are marked absent. It’s an excused absence, but it’s still an absence. So it ruins their perfect attendance. They miss classroom instruction, they miss exams, quizzes,” said Zainab Chaudry, Equality for Eid Coalition.

The school system says they can only justify closing if enough kids are absent on a given day ever year. That gives Eleanor an idea.

“I think the next step is to organize a teach-in or something at a place or many places to learn about Eid on the next Eid that’s on a school day that’s not taken off,” she said.

This year, one of the Eid holidays just so happens to fall on the same day as Yom Kippur. Since schools are closed for Yom Kippur, Muslim kids get that holiday off this year by coincidence.

Several school districts in five states, including New York, have already moved to close on both of the Muslim holidays.

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