FCPS holds off on holidays

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Jada McGlothin

Fairfax County Public Schools Gatehouse office building headquarters houses board meeting.

Jada McGlothin, Staff Writer

For many students, it’s important for their religious holidays to be recognized and properly celebrated. However, in school calendars from past years, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has only allowed for the Christian celebration, Christmas, to be considered a holiday worthy of a day off. Thus, pressure has been put on FCPS to allow for more religious holidays for different minority religions.

“It is not fair that people who follow other religions do not have access to time off to properly celebrate religious festivals,” sophomore Nitya Varigala said.

In 2020, a senior named Dinan Elysad at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology pushed for more religious accommodations. According to ABC 7 News, Dinan organized a petition stating her desires for a more diverse selection of religious holidays signed by hundreds of other students. Later on, the school board assembled as a task force to tackle the lack of religious diversity.  

“[Adding] more religious holidays is beneficial because it’ll help students feel seen and accepted into a community,” junior Hailey Chung said.

The school board met in early February 2021 to discuss adding days off for Muslim, Jewish and Hindu religious events such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali and Eid al-Fitr, according to The Washington Post. However, the school board postponed this meeting, prompting seven Washington, D.C. faith groups to send a letter to the board citing their dismay.  

“The constant postponing of such holidays is wrong in that it expresses the idea that these holidays are not as important nor significant enough,” junior Zilala Mamat said.

Between the board vote’s postponement and the newly set date of March 18, the board asked superintendent Scott Brabrand to consider granting students “floating days.” According to The Washington Post, these days would allow for two excused absences for religious observances and rites. 

“Changing the calendar is very beneficial because this way, kids will not have to miss out on school and take days off,” Varigala said.

According to WTOP news, the school board did vote on March 18 to amend the school calendar to allow room “to respect, honor and recognize” the requisition of Jewish, Muslim and Hindu holidays. However, this amendment still fell short of requested days off, only recognizing the requested religious holidays instead of allotting days off. Instead, the school board promised that important school events will not be held on these newly recognized holidays such as tests, quizzes, graduation ceremonies, field trips, homecomings and FCPS-scheduled athletic events.

“The addition of these holidays to be observed is a step in the right direction to recognize religions outside of Christianity,” Chung said.

FCPS claims that not complying with religious advocates’ complete requests was due to compromise and COVID-19. As reported by WTOP news, the board attempted to find a “middle ground” for inclusiveness. Additionally, superintendent Brabrand claims that he had to delay calendar changes due to this impact of COVID-19 on everyday school life. 

“I think FCPS should be attentive when considering which holidays

they would like to incorporate into the calendar and the days in regards to that as well,” Mamat said.

As it stands, according to the Washington Post, FCPS only allows nine days off for holidays, religious and secular, every school year including Labor Day, Presidents Day and Memorial Day. This is why adding any more days off would interrupt the calendar flow.

“Fairfax County is one of just several religiously diverse areas in the country, and everyone should have the right to celebrate their respective holiday properly,” Varigala said. 

In other school districts such as Loudoun County, its school board has already approved the 2021-2022 calendar with Yom Kippur and the Day of Atonement as school days off. According to WTOP news, religious leaders and some assigned to the task force believe the fight isn’t over when giving days off to accommodate Jewish, Muslim and Hindu students.

“I find that it’s important to include and observe religious holidays that minorities represent considering that Fairfax county is extremely diverse,” Chung said.