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SFUSD board brings back discussion of adding religious holidays to school calendar

PIX Now -- Thursday morning headlines from KPIX newsroom
PIX Now -- Thursday morning headlines from KPIX newsroom 09:06

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/BCN) – At a meeting for the San Francisco Board of Education Tuesday, school district staff stated there needs to be a more flexible policy for students observing religious holidays.

The discussion came after the school board said it reversed its August decision to declare Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as holidays in the 2022-2023 calendar year, citing "further analysis" needed from the district on how to appropriately recognize culturally significant holidays for students.

Though the board did not issue a vote on adding or removing more holidays from the 2023-2024 calendar, they did hear recommendations from district staff on how to support students who choose to honor their cultural or religious commitments.

Upon analyzing district demographic and attendance data, best practices from other districts, legal guidelines and discussions with interest groups, district staff concluded that there needs to be a comprehensive policy on how the district recognizes religious customs by March, before Eid al-Fitr is celebrated.

Staff also said there needs to be a calendar planning process that invites community input, while still upholding its existing policies for calendar planning, like consulting with labor partners.

The district concluded that attendance rates "should not guide recommendations" in holiday changes, as the rates are nearly the same as they are on normal school days, according to recent data.

The district also found that other school districts make it easier for students celebrating culturally significant holidays to take the day off, whether that's permitting excused absences, or ensuring big school events do not coincide with those days.

Next steps come from Superintendent Matt Wayne, who will incorporate input from Tuesday's discussion into further recommendations for a policy on adding holidays to the calendar.

District families of the Arab and Muslim community said they will continue to advocate for the two holidays to be recognized, and feel like the school board is caving to recent lawsuit threats.

"We're stunned that the board is turning its back on our community. Our community has been dealing with Islamophobia for years. If the school board won't defend us from racist attacks, who will?" said Aisha Majdoub, a student at Galileo High School.

In August, Paul Scott, the same lawyer who sued the school district for its plan to rename some schools, threatened to pursue legal action against the board, alleging that it is favoring one religion over others.

The Eid holiday resolution was initially led by a 2021 petition started by district students, backed by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. 

"Tonight the school board went against its commitment to the Arab and Muslim community. Their decision is shameful and sets a dangerous precedent for San Francisco, where elites can dictate racist policies that harm communities of color. We will not allow these attacks on our community to continue unanswered," said Lara Kiswani, executive director of AROC.

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