Jersey City School Board Meeting Gets Heated During Debate Over Closing for Muslim Holiday

A Jersey City school board meeting Thursday to vote on whether to close for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha on Sept. 24 turned contentious before the board ultimately decided not to close schools next week. 

The Jersey City Board of Education had originally proposed to close schools next Thursday so that Muslim students could observe the holiday, and the City Council unanimously supported it a week ago. The academic year would have extended one day to June 23, 2016 as a result. 

But during the nearly four hours of debate at the board meeting Thursday, some of the Jewish faith said they felt they were being discriminated against because they weren't getting their own school days off for holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

"Many of our Jewish community members are feeling left out," said parent Roy Tomargo. 

As the debate wore on and it became clear that the school board would not close schools next Thursday, Muslim community members nearly walked out in anger and frustration.

"We feel alienated from the Board of Education, we feel alienated from this system," said Omar Abouelkhair. 

In the original resolution announcing the vote, the board said it was "committed to honoring the great diversity of our district, including our religious diversity," and that it will "continue to engage our communities to explore ways to support its diverse communities and celebrate our many cultures and faiths." 

Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, is one of the most important Muslim holidays, along with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan. 

The board ended the meeting Thursday by saying it ultimately could not disrupt the lives of others. 

"Doing this at this point on six days notice for this upcoming holiday is going to cause undue hardship on 5,000 to 10,000 people who are going to have to scramble to get coverage for their children," said board member Gerald Lyons. 

The board emphasized that students can continue to take days off for religious purposes without penalty, and that it would revisit its religious holiday policy later this year. 

There are approximately 27,000 students enrolled in the 38 public schools in New Jersey's second-largest city, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

In New York City, schools will closed for those holidays for the first time under a new policy announced by Mayor de Blasio last March. 

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