2020-2021 school calendar recognizes religous holidays with days off

Devin Allard-Neptune, Contributing Writer

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Beginning in 2021, the school will recognize Lunar New Year on Feb. 12 and Eid al-Fitr on May 12, two globally-celebrated religious holidays, with days off.
According to Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly, the addition of these two days coincided with the school’s efforts to increase representation. “In light of our work in the areas of difference, equity and social justice, it was time to have a holiday calendar that was more inclusive of the holidays celebrated, both in the United States and within the Horace Mann School family,” Kelly wrote in an email.
This is the first time since Kelly’s arrival to the school that dramatic changes surrounding religious holidays have been made to the calendar, he said. According to Kelly, the school annually revisits the academic calendar, but the Lunar New Year and Eid al-Fitr additions are the first significant changes that have been made for the purpose of including and representing other cultures and traditions.
Though days off have not been added in recent memory, these two dates are not the first changes that the administration has made to the calendar. Since 2016, the final edition of every calendar has included a disclaimer illustrating the school’s policy for holidays not included in the calendar. A portion of the disclaimer reads, “The School respects the religious practices of its students and is committed to providing reasonable accommodations for religious obligations. If an accommodation is believed necessary, students and/or parents should speak with the employee responsible for each class or program.” This policy allows the school to avoid discriminatory practices, Kelly wrote.
“The religious observance policy applies to any preexisting religious holidays, not just the new ones added to the 2020-2021 academic calendar,” Kelly wrote. “In fact, it is important for everyone to note that this policy also applies to those days of religious observance when school is not closed.”
Eid al-Fitr, according to Daanyal Agboatwalla (11), is the most important holiday in Islam. “Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month-long fasting from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. In the morning, we are supposed to go to the mosque, listen to a sermon, and make a special prayer. Once we finish, we go out and celebrate with friends and family over great food,” Agboatwalla said.
Mandy Liu (11) described the Lunar New Year celebration as a nation-wide event. “Relatives and friends from everywhere in the world come together and reunite with each other, then they eat a lot of food and watch Lunar New Year programs.”
In the past, not having school off on such religious holidays forced many students to make difficult decisions regarding their academic careers. “Since the prayer at the mosque is mandatory for Eid, I have missed a few of my morning classes every year on that day but have usually made up the work somewhat quickly,” Agboatwalla said. “I always wanted to take the entire day off to celebrate but felt guilty and concerned about missing my schoolwork.”
Liu has friends who have had a similar experience with celebrating the Lunar New Year. “I have friends that have missed school on the Friday before Lunar New Year to go celebrate—they have had to choose between celebrating their culture or going to school, which is an impossible decision to make.”
Liu’s extended family lives in Beijing, so even with the day off, she would not be able to celebrate the Lunar New Year to the fullest, she said. “I celebrated the new year with my parents and my neighbor who is also a student at Horace Mann,” Liu said. “We celebrated after school, but having the whole day off would be better; it would be like the school represented our culture more by giving us that day.”
Meryeme Elalouani (12) will have graduated by Eid al-Fitr next year, but she acknowledges the importance of the actions the school is taking by recognizing the holiday and the school’s Muslim American community, she said.
Adding more dates in the calendar is not the only way to incorporate more cultures into the community of the school, Liu said. “This year I was surprised because on Friday, the day before Lunar New Year, the cafeteria was decorated with all of these Lunar New Year decorations. That was such a tiny thing and it made me so happy knowing that the school was aware of [Lunar New Year] and was celebrating it.”
According to Kelly, the school has already made steps outside the calendar to increase representation in the school. “In the Upper Division, we’ve added a multicultural space, and we’re about to do something similar in the Middle Division. That said, there is always more to do in terms of celebrating the difference that defines us.”
The administration is not the only part of the school responsible for recognizing and sharing cultures, Elalouani said. “The school is meant to be a secular location, so I definitely think it’s on the student body to take it into their own hands if they want to share any customs or cultures. The school is very cognizant when it comes to putting on culture events and stuff like that.”
“In the future, the school can definitely do more,” Liu said. “Obviously not just for Lunar New Year, but also for other smaller holidays days that people don’t know of. The addition of these holidays is definitely a very big change, but doing these small things can actually make people really happy.