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Know Your Rights
Source: Forbes
Subject: Profiles of MRNY
Type: Media Coverage

Pope Francis’ Visit To New York Highlights The Politics Of School Holidays

As Pope Francis motored around New York City on Thursday he surely noticed all the boys and girls from private Catholic schools in their plaid skirts and ties who lined his routes. What he may not have known is that the 1.1 million students who attend New York City public schools were also off that day. It wasn’t to pay respect to the Pontiff. Heaven forbid. It was to honor Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holy day. A day earlier students were off for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

For me, the Pope’s visit was a prime example of why we need more school choice. The Catholic school principals, who control individual schools, could throw their schedules out the window and let some or all of their students out for a peek at the Pope. They can honor their patron saint without forcing it on every other school. Mammoth public school districts like New York, on the other hand, have no flexibility. Schools in Muslim neighborhoods can’t choose to close for Eid al-Adha and stay open for Yom Kippur and vice-versa for the schools in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.

These huge districts, which are adamant about keeping religion out of schools, have no problem adding religious holidays to the calendar to appease political activists. They just hope they can shoe-horn in the required 180 days before June ends.

Back in March, Mayor Bill De Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina announced that the New York schools would be closed for Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and fell during summer break this year. “We made a pledge to families that we would change our school calendar to reflect the strength and diversity of our city,” De Blasio said.

Public schools don’t track religious affiliations of their students but the officials did say that 36% of students at P.S./I.S. 30 in Brooklyn, where they made the announcement, were absent the last time Eid al-Adha fell on a school day. The school is in Bay Ridge, once home to Tony Manero from “Saturday Night Fever” and now known as Little Palestine.

How political was the move? The press release by the mayor and Farina also included laudatory statements on the decision by 16 different politicians, Muslim leaders and city activists. My favorite was from Javier Valdes, a leader of Make the Road New York, a group that “builds the power of Latino and working class communities.” The group is working to unionize Spanish-speaking car-wash workers, known as carwasheros. Yes, indeed, New York City taxpayers paid to have a city employee round up a positive quote about a Muslim holiday from the people who helped push De Blasio to sign the Car Wash Accountability Act in June.

Not to be outdone, Hindu activists have been pushing for inclusion of the holy day Diwali on the New York calendar. “We certainly want what the Muslim community got,” Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Queens, told International Business Times in March.

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