Spring-Ford right to add holidays

A+family+celebrates+Eid-al-Fitr+in+Philadelphia%E2%80%99s+Fairmount+Park.+

Photo courtesy of WHYY.org

A family celebrates Eid-al-Fitr in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.

Ally McVey , Managing Editor

One parent at the Spring-Ford School Board meeting on Jan. 18 encapsulated the anguish experienced by many Spring-Ford students with the scenario he posed to board members, who would soon vote on the 2022-2023 district calendar:

“Imagine if you had to take a calculus exam on Christmas,” Dr. Saiful Khandaker postulated during his public comment.

This possibility undoubtedly strikes terror in the minds of students who celebrate Christmas, a holiday that is, like many others, defined by familial comfort and relaxation. Something as cruelly unforgiving as a calculus test certainly shatters the sanctity of such a cherished day and is why schools across the United States close each year on December 25th – to allow families to enjoy the special occasion without lingering anxieties for upcoming tests or outstanding assignments.

But while Spring-Ford has always closed for holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur, it has operated as normal during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr and the Hindu holiday of Diwali. This created a frustrating dilemma for students of Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh faiths, who felt they must choose between celebrating with their families or keeping up with their studies.

“Muslim students throughout the school district have been left conflicted on whether or not to take days off and have been left with the burden of classwork and tests they miss,” said Ion Zamon while making a public comment at the school board meeting.
On February 28th, during the Spring-Ford Area School Board’s monthly Work Session meeting, the board unanimously approved a 2022-2023 district calendar that grants students in-service days on Diwali and Eid-al-Fitr. This change, in addition to altering the practical implications of the calendar, was symbolic in nature.

Aside from feeling bogged down by impending exams and assignments, many students had felt their cultures and religions were invalidated by previous district calendars. There was something markedly different, these students said, between a holiday for which a day off is readily given and one that is deemed an “excused absence.”

“By not providing days off for the Islamic holidays, a strong sense of exclusion wafts over this community,” Zaman went on to say during his public comment.

Spring-Ford has continued to increase cultural awareness, an effort recently outlined by the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (EDI) at the Jan. 24 School Board Meeting.

“By fostering self-awareness and social awareness, we strive to overcome conscious and unconscious bias, participate in courageous conversations and create an inclusive culture that welcomes the diverse beauty of the entire Spring-Ford Community,” reads the Spring-Ford EDI mission statement.

As the district continues to move toward the goals set forth by the EDI committee, it is important for Spring-Ford students, parents, and staff to learn more about the holidays that are of such great value to many Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh members of the Spring-Ford community, and will now constitute days off for students.

Eid-al-Fitr is a Muslim festival that marks the end of Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting. It is characterized by communal prayers, gift exchanges, and visits to the graves of deceased relatives. While Ramadan represents a time of deep contemplation and sacrifice for Muslims, Eid embodies the celebration and appreciation of what one has. It is one of only two holidays celebrated by the entire worldwide Muslim community, further increasing its importance to practitioners of the faith. Eid al-Fitr begins on the evening of Wednesday, May 12, and ends on the evening of Thursday, May 13, this year. It begins on April 21 to the evening of April 22 next year.

Diwali is primarily celebrated by Hindus, but also observed by some members of the Sikh faith. Commonly referred to as a “festival of lights”, Diwali stems from many ancient religious stories and principally represents the triumph of good over evil. Diwali falls on Oct. 24 next year.

No matter a student’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, it is decent to grant him or her a sufficient reprieve from normal school activities to celebrate the fundamental values that are universal across cultures, religions, and languages; family, health, and the memories of the deceased.

By approving the 2022-2023 district calendar, the Spring-Ford School Board was able to send a unifying message after a slew of meetings characterized by polarization. And while recognizing these holidays on the district calendar certainly had important practical implications, it also carried symbolic significance; these days off signify understanding, respect, and recognition on the part of the district.