In recognition that New York City’s population of 8.5 million is nearly one-eighth Muslim, the city has announced that its public schools will close for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha next school year.
In announcing the move, New York mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement: “We made a pledge to families that we would change our school calendar to reflect the strength and diversity of our city. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim families will no longer have to choose between honoring the most sacred days on their calendar or attending school.”
One hope is that the change will help regulate the pace of learning in classes when a large chunk of students is forced to miss school days for religious reasons. For instance, 36% of students were absent in one Brooklyn school the last time Eid al-Adha fell during the school week, according to the city’s press release. A Harvard study last year examining the impact of snow days on student learning found that students suffer more when there are scattered absences than when the entire class misses a day.
New York is following a number of other districts around the country that are recognizing Muslim holidays in different ways, as the American Muslim population continues to grow. For example, in 2011, one Michigan school district with a large Muslim population moved football practice to nights during Ramadan to allow players who fast during daylight hours to eat and hydrate before practice, according to the New York Times. A Connecticut school is offering excused absences and avoiding scheduling major tests or events on those days.
In certain parts of the country, this kind of flexibility is being applied to other religions. This week, Edison Township in New Jersey, where the population is 33% Indian and 8% Chinese, added both the Hindu holiday of Diwali and the Lunar New Year to its school holiday calendar. For the past few years, Diwali had been deemed a “professional development day,” or a day when faculty and staff work but students are given the day off, Edison’s board of education president Veena Iyer told Quartz. Now school employees, who increasingly reflect the student population, can celebrate Diwali, too.
Edison joins a number of other New Jersey school districts—given the state’s sizeable Indian population—in recognizing Diwali, though some also recognize Eid. South Brunswick, for example, will give students the day off for both Eid and Diwali.