Hawzah News Agency (New Jersey, US) - Teaneck is the second Bergen County school district, and one of a handful in the state, to recognize an Islamic holiday.
Cliffside Park began closing to mark the end of Ramadan in 2007. Newark, Clifton, Paterson, Prospect Park, Trenton and Jersey City have also closed in recognition of Muslim holidays.
"For a number of years, people have approached us about giving a day off, but you want to be careful when you give holidays because you have to have at least 180 days of school," said Ardie Walser, the township Board of Education president. "We feel we now have a critical mass in our schools of practicing Muslims, among students and employees, where we are at a point we can do this."
Federal and state law protects students who are absent from school for religious reasons. Observant students who miss school cannot be deprived educational opportunities because of the absence and have the right to make up exams they have missed.
The state Department of Education's list of excused religious observances has grown in recent years to more than 160, about double the number just a decade ago. The list encompasses about a dozen religions.
Some New Jersey school districts have rejected incorporating Muslim holidays into its school calendar as days off.
Two years ago, Paramus school officials voted not to give off days for Eid al-Adha and Diwali, a Hindu holiday, explaining that the number of observant students was not large enough to necessitate shutting down schools.
Eid al Fitr is celebrated at the end of Ramadan, a time of fasting during daylight hours. Next year, Teaneck schools will be closed for the holiday on June 5, which falls on a Wednesday. Because Muslim holidays are determined by the lunar calendar, the days they fall on are fluid. Some years, they fall on weekends or during summer months when there is no school.
Township Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, who is Muslim with children in the district, said while he is happy the school board is acknowledging the holiday, putting that into practice could be complicated because of the varying calendar.
"I'm pleased there is a school holiday, but as a parent, I don't understand how we are going to pull this off with a lunar calendar," he said. “We don’t know when exactly it falls because it depends on when we see the moon."
The acknowledgement of Muslim holidays on a growing number of New Jersey school calendars reflects the state’s diversity, said Sara Sheikh, a spokeswoman with CAIR-NJ.
“With the growing Muslim community that we have here, school boards are realizing that it is important to recognize these holidays,” she said. “Eid is a day of celebration. This helps children be able to celebrate with their families without worrying about taking a day off or making it up.”