Washington, Jan 16: A US school district has unanimously voted to add Diwali, Eid al-Adha and Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve in the school holiday calendar, for the first time in the school system's history.
Indian-American community hailed the decision by Howard County Public School System, which manages 71 schools and serves nearly 50,000 students, as "historic".
"I am extremely pleased by the Board's ability to discuss and unanimously agree to seek ways to recognise the diverse backgrounds of Howard County's students and families," Board of Education Chairwoman Christine O'Connor said in a statement after the eight member board unanimously supported such a motion.
"We want to do our best to find flexibility within the calendar to provide opportunities for all students to experience all cultures within our community," OConnor said. The motion in this regard as proposed by board member Janet Siddiqui.
"By taking this vote, the Howard County Board of Education has shown a great way forward in acknowledging diverse religious holidays without violating the spirit of church-state separation," said Murali Balaji education director of Hindu American Foundation.
HAF and Chinmaya Mission started a petition that collected over 250 signatures in under three weeks, while the Board received nearly 500 emails from parents asking for inclusion of Diwali. Indian Students at Centennial High School (ISAC) also collected and submitted signatures for the effort, said Balaji, who along with several Chinmaya Mission members, testified at the Board's hearing last month.
"This vote is proof that it is indeed possible to accommodate the religious needs of multiple faith communities in diverse school districts," said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Maryland Outreach Manager Zainab Chaudry, who has submitted testimony on the holiday inclusion issue.
"Religious pluralism is the hallmark of an integrated and inclusive society. We see that reflected in the Howard County Board of Education's decision," Chaudry said. According to Baltimore Sun, as of the 2014-2015 school year, 42 per cent of Howard County students were white, 22 per cent were black, 19 per cent were Asian, nine per cent were Hispanic and six per cent were of two or more races.
The school system does not record the religious backgrounds of its students, it said.