WATERBURY – After hearing concerns from the Waterbury Muslim community, the Board of Education voted 9-1 on Tuesday to modify the academic calendar to recognize Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as school holidays.
About 50 local Muslim community members attended the meeting, with many speaking about the benefits of recognizing Eid. Muslim students reasoned that including Eid as a school holiday would open a conversation with non-Muslim students in the school district and could become a teaching moment about their culture. Students said the holiday could also help reduce the bullying they experience.
Students told board members that that potentially missing out on education when absent from school during Eid caused them stress and worry.
“A lot of Muslim students agree that they feel invisible. They’re out there, but they’re invisible. There is no acknowledgement,” said Jawad Ashraf, a Waterbury Islamic Cultural Center member. “If we give them the holiday off, that’ll go a long way in actually initiating a conversation and the opportunity for our teachers and instructors to be able to engage students.”
In collaboration with the Connecticut Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Waterbury Islamic Cultural Center, Waterbury’s Human Rights Commission Vice Chairman Fahd Syed has led the Eid holiday campaign for the past few weeks. Syed estimates there are between 4,500 and 5,000 Muslim students in the Waterbury school district, making the recognition necessary.
Syed, CAIR and the WICC held a Zoom meeting in May with Waterbury school administrators and over 100 community members to consider adopting the two Muslim holidays. More than 200 people also attended a Board of Education meeting on May 18, where many Muslim parents and students addressed the board with their concerns.
“We want to have equal treatment like all,” Syed said.
Waterbury Schools Superintendent Verna Ruffin encouraged attendees to express how they felt to the board.
“I believe that it is important for school districts to listen to students, parents and the community in which they are located, and I believe that the community, especially our Muslim community should have the opportunity to express how they feel,” Ruffin said.
Several school board members said they sympathized with students who wanted to observe their religious holidays without worrying about school and bullying.
“What bothered me most was listening to bullying that students had to go through,” Board of Education Commissioner Rocco Orso said. “It really bothers me, and no child should have to choose between school and being there with their parents and praying during their holiday.”
Commissioner Thomas Van Stone was the only school board member to vote against the proposal, worried about non-Muslim parents that would need child care while they are at work.
“I just don’t think we put this together well,” Stone said. “In the future if we could make this a citywide celebration, I’d proudly vote yes.”
In 2015, Waterbury was Connecticut’s first public school system to recognize Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, allowing students excused absences during the Islamic holidays, Ashraf said.
Eid al-Fitr is an Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting. Eid al-Adha is known as the “Greater Eid” and marks when thousands of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Their timing differs annually, as they follow a lunar calendar, with Eid al-Adha following Eid al-Fitr by a little over two months. In 2023, Eid al-Fitr was celebrated on April 9, and Eid al-Adha will be celebrated on June 28.