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US: San Francisco reverses decision to recognise Eid holidays in schools, sparking outrage

Community advocates say school district has 'turned its back' on Muslim and Arab students
Last month, the San Francisco Unified School District recommended recognising certain religious holidays without closing school for those days.
Last month, the San Francisco Unified School District recommended recognising certain religious holidays without closing school for those days (AFP/File photo)

The San Francisco school district has backtracked on a decision to make Eid a school holiday, sparking backlash from the local Muslim and Arab community, who say the move gives in to racist opposition.

Late last month, the San Francisco Unified School District issued a number of recommendations for adding new holidays to the school calendar, including recognising certain religious holidays without formally labelling them holidays or closing school for those days.

"Essentially what's happened is the district has turned its back on the Arab and Muslim community in San Francisco. They've found an 'All Lives Matters' solution to racist backlash," Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, told Middle East Eye.

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Kiswani said it sends the wrong message to Muslim and Arab communities.

"I think that sets a pretty dangerous precedent for San Francisco moving forward."

Middle East Eye reached out to the San Francisco Unified School District for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

The decision marks a major reversal for the school district, which in August 2022 had voted in favour of a resolution to add both Eid holidays - Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha - as school holidays.

"Incorporating Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha into the San Francisco Unified School District Calendar as days when schools are closed in recognition of the holidays would allow Muslim students to fully participate in these holidays and maintain equal access to their educational opportunities," the 2022 resolution states.

However, soon after the resolution was passed, the school district was threatened with a lawsuit accusing the move to observe the Eid holiday as being a violation of the Constitution because it prioritises one religion over others.

Several districts across the country have adopted measures to recognise certain religious holidays, including Eid, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, without similar opposition.

Kiswani said the reversal was concerning and appears to be "an indication of a wider, right-wing trend across the country that is assaulting public education".

"And that is what's happening here in San Francisco. It's a reflection of a broader assault on public education."

Continuing public pressure

The San Francisco area is home to 250,000 Muslims, according to a study by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

Allowing Eid as a school holiday would allow Muslim students to be able to have time off to celebrate the holiday without fear of missing any instructional time at school, local advocates say.

The campaign to recognise Eid in the school district was launched in 2021 by Sara Ouchene, who was then a high school student attending Raoul Wallenberg High School.

"Growing up, I've always had to take a day off from school for Eid. I would always have to get a paper from my parents in order to excuse my absence. And I would think: 'Why do I have to ask for permission if this is an important holiday for my beliefs?'" Ouchene told MEE.

'For us, this isn't just about Eid'

- Lara Kiswani, Arab Resource and Organizing Center

The Arab Resource and Organizing Center, a local, grassroots group in San Francisco advocating for the Arab community, joined the efforts and began to build support among a number of community groups.

"We were bringing a very reasonable and moderate proposal that's led by students, and the district did their civic duty by overwhelmingly ratifying this decision," Kiswani said.

"For us, this isn't just about Eid. This is about what public schools are supposed to represent and who they're supposed to protect and serve."

Kiswani said the effort had gained backing from a number of groups, including a teachers' union, and the petition was even taken up by the city's Human Rights Commission, which issued a recommendation in favour of recognising the Eid holidays.

But the decision from the school district, made during a meeting on 24 January, had blocked this years-long effort. The school district issued recommendations, including ensuring no exams or major events are scheduled for Eid. However, schools would remain open and students would have to take off if they wanted to observe the holiday.

"It's upsetting, especially since all these like children were so excited to finally be recognised. Since growing up, we never had that recognition," said Ouchene, who is now a college student attending San Francisco State University.

"After all the work that we have put into it - I spent many like summers and weekends trying to go to meetings and figure out how to make this possible - and now all of that feels like it went to waste."

But Kiswani said that she and other organisers are not giving up just yet. After issuing an action alert last week, she said AROC has already sent thousands of letters to members of the city's board of education.

"We have until March for the city to actually approve and move forward with finalising their calendar for the upcoming school year, which is when Eid was supposed to be implemented and recognised as a holiday," she said.

"So we're continuing to do mass public pressure."

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