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This year, the New York City Department of Education has included Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday, in the public school calendar as a vacation day for the first time. Eid is currently celebrated by hundreds of thousands of Muslims in New York City. The inclusion of Eid seems to be appropriate, since 10% of NYC public school students are Muslim, according to a study conducted by Columbia University in 2008. Officials also recently added the Lunar New Year to the calendar after Chinese-Americans called attention to it this past summer. These new additions, however, raise the question as to why other religions and cultures do not have their holidays included in the DOE calendar.
Because the New York State Education Department requires 180 days of instruction, this new inclusion of religious and cultural holidays requires some major adjustments to the academic calendar. Officials must account for vacation days, and the DOE will have to either end the school year later or begin it earlier. This would be unfair for students who do not observe these religious holidays. They would have a shorter summer because of holidays they do not celebrate.
Of course, the problems do not end here. The DOE would not be recognizing every culture, as it has struggled to do. Even a culture or religion with only a few members will have to have its holidays recognized to maintain equality. This attempt to recognize all cultures and religions is overwhelming, not to mention that catering to the needs of every religious and ethnic group represented in New York City public schools is virtually impossible. New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world. The Department of Education is attempting to reach an impossible standard.
The best course of action is to stop changing the calendar. The best the DOE can hope to do is to accommodate the majority of the people. According to the Pew Research Center, 59% of New Yorkers are Christian, 13% are Jewish, and between 6 and 10% are Muslim. The remaining 12-18% practice an Eastern faith or do not identify with a religious affiliation. As such, the DOE has already accommodated the majority of New York students with Christian and Jewish holidays often overlapping. The moment when observance of a plethora of religious holidays will interfere with a quality education is soon approaching if the DOE continues on the path that it is taking.
There will come a time when these holidays will prove a hindrance rather than an accommodation.