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The Detroit district school board held its first virtual meeting on Tuesday, April 14th. Photo Credit: Eleanore Catolico/Chalkbeat

The Detroit district school board held its first virtual meeting on Tuesday, April 14th. Photo Credit: Eleanore Catolico/Chalkbeat

Screenshot taken by Eleanore Catolico/Chalkbeat

Detroit district approves 2020-21 calendar despite student objections over not adding Muslim holiday

The Detroit school board approved next year’s academic calendar Tuesday night, despite opposition from some of the district’s Muslim students for omitting the observance of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan.

Several students called into the virtual board meeting, and others posted comments asking the board not to vote on the issue. The meeting was held virtually on the video conference platform called Zoom. 

Hemyar Al-Jamali was one of many who expressed frustration during the virtual meeting.

“We are not asking to be treated special. We are asking to be treated equal,” he said. 

Metro Detroit contains one of the nation’s largest Muslim populations. Dearborn, Hamtramck and Crestwood school districts already recognize the Eid holiday. The Detroit district does not. Eid al-Fitr is a three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and board members directly acknowledged the students’ frustrations during the meeting.

Vitti said several challenges prevented the district from including the holiday on the calendar, including a later school start date and disagreements about reworking the calendar.

By law, school districts are required to provide students 180 in-school days and 1,098 instructional hours. The district will provide 181 in-school days and 1,146 instructional hours. To add a holiday, the district would need to subtract days from other already scheduled holiday breaks on the school calendar.  

“At the end of the day, our employees were not comfortable to shorten or eliminate breaks.” he said. 

“We cannot impose the calendar. It needs to be collectively bargained,” he said, adding that the Detroit Federation of Teachers wants to include the holiday, but also wants more time to tell its members about the calendar changes. The union represents district employees, including teachers.

Vitti also said students should not be penalized for missing school days to honor the holiday, which next year will start on May 12. 

“If there is, we’ll address it,” he said. 

The Detroit district had planned to add the holiday to its current 2019-20 calendar but could not reach an agreement with the teachers union. 

Mohammad Muntakim, a junior at Cass Technical High School, wrote an opinion piece last year in the Detroit Free Press encouraging the district to commemorate the holiday.  

He helped organize other Muslim youth to encourage school officials to postpone Tuesday’s vote. 

Muntakim said he recognizes the challenges the district encounters, but he is still disappointed with the decision and is frustrated that the needs of Muslim students continue to be overlooked. 

“I think it’s a matter of principle. It’s a matter of recognizing and acknowledging the diversity that lies within the district,” he said before the meeting. 

The calendar anticipates a normal start day for students, the Tuesday after Labor Day. But the district will continue to follow guidance from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as the state battles the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Summer class offerings may be expanded for seniors who require additional credits to graduate, but that decision will be contingent upon Whitmer’s orders. 

Highlights of the 2020-21 calendar include:

  • The first full day of school for students will be Sept. 8.  
  • The last day of school for students is June 24. 
  • Winter break will be Dec. 21-Jan. 4.
  • Mid-winter break will be Feb. 15-19.
  • Spring break will be March 29-April 2.