WARREN, NJ — Watchung Hills Board of Education President Robert Morrison addressed comments made by the Muslim-Hindu-Jewish Coalition at the last meeting of the Watchung Hills Board of Education during public commentary.
For months there has been a lot of factually incorrect statements that have been made in public comment about the topic of additional holidays, some individuals going so far as to question this boards commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. So tonight, I am going to use the prerogative of the president to set the record straight.
This entire conversation started not a year ago, not several years ago, it started in May of 2021 with an email dated May 3 from Mrs. Qutub to the board of education.
In her email, she does not ask for additional holidays. What she asked for was the following, and I quote:
As you may or may not know, many students and families in our Watchung Hills district are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan. It is a month marked by daily fasting, acts of charity and commitment to do good unto others. It is in nine days that Ramadan will conclude with the culmination of Eid Holiday. It is a festive occasion for which many of our students at our school (and teachers) will be absent.
It is in the spirit of equity and inclusivity that I and many in the Watchung Hills community request the following for the Eid Holidays:
1) That the 2 Eid holidays be placed on all school calendars
2) That no events (musical, sports, etc.), field trips, tests, quizzes, or homework be scheduled the day of the holiday; no quizzes/tests scheduled the day after
This was then followed by a request two weeks later to have Eid and Dwali be added to the calendar as actual holidays.
The administration moved this request to the education committee for discussion.
During several presentations by Mrs. Qutub and others it was mentioned how these holidays were celebrated by billions of people around the world.
Peeked by this assertion… the education committee recommended and the board decided to conduct a survey of the school community to determine how many WHRHS Families observe the holiday. Recognizing that this may be a larger issue, we wanted to conduct a more comprehensive survey so we understood the various religious holidays that our community members celebrated that were not currently recognized by the calendar. Additionally, we asked the community for feedback on what would be most helpful to them to ensure their students could celebrate their holidays. We engaged Rutgers University to assist with the survey development to ensure there was no bias in the questioning and kept it simple and short to improve the chances for participation.
Mrs. Qutub and her group objected to this idea. This was puzzling since she and her group members had claimed the size of population observing these holidays… it would only make sense to want to understand how many in our school community actually celebrate them. They went further to state they would boycott the survey. Certainly their prerogative. Fortunately, we had an excellent response rate that provided us with invaluable information in order to form the strategy for addressing holidays moving forward.
Based on the survey feedback, the administration developed the “homework free zones” for the religious holidays when school remains open to allow students to celebrate with their families.
The board is supportive of this policy because it allows any of our students, regardless of their religious beliefs or cultural backgrounds, to celebrate with their families without fear of missing out on something significant at school.
This is very much in keeping with our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
This is the very thing Mrs. Qutub requested in her very first email ” in the spirit of equity and inclusivity “
We have recently heard from Mrs. Qutub and her group that Fairfax County Virginia just added these holidays!
I am familiar with Fairfax County since my wife used to teach there.
There are 180,000 students with 200 languages.
Demographically, very different.
FCPS is one of the-largest employer in Virginia, has nearly 25,000 full-time employees.
She also spoke about Paramus Public Schools. Paramus has 700 families celebrate the holidays in question. The change to their calendar will ultimately have the School year will end on June 27th!
There are not too many people in our community that would want school and graduation to go to nearly the end of June. Of course, we could start earlier in August as an option. I am not sure how the teachers union would react to that suggestion.
And you know what many of these communities did to determine what to do? A survey!
Now, Watchung Hills is nothing like Fairfax County of Paramus or Edison.
What we have to take into account is in our WH community’s interest while also balancing the needs of everyone.
And just like businesses do not close for every celebrated religious holiday the same is true for all school districts. That is because during the period schools are open there are 133 days with religious holidays that allow for pupil absences. 133 days. We cannot be closed for all of them. Which is why districts make judgements based on the needs and religious and cultural make up of each individual community.
Lastly, Watchung Hills is not a self-contained unified school district. We are actually a collection of FIVE school districts. Each has their own calendar and priorities. When it comes to scheduling we try to be sensitive so we are not interfering with breaks for the benefit of families as well as the need to coordinate transportation across communities. We do our very best to have our calendars aligned for the benefit of our families.
I and others on this board have asked Mrs. Qutub and her group to reach out to the other districts to get their feedback on the request for the extra holidays as well. To date, we have not received any information, and it is unclear if there has been any conversation with our related districts. Which raises the question, why all the attention at the WHRHS board meeting and no effort to get the schools in their own hometowns to be supportive of this effort?
After we had made clear in January our Homework Free Zone policy a speaker last month stated that this was:
“Struggle for the right to celebrate my identity without punishment”
Really? Creating a homework free zone is punishment? Our policy makes someone struggle to celebrate their identity?
This is the VERY policy the MAJORITY of the survey respondents asked for. The very policy Mrs. Qutub had asked for “in the spirit of equity and inclusivity “. We have not heard from others that our policy is a punishment. Our policy is an acknowledgment of the right to celebrate any individuals cultural or religious beliefs. This is part of our commitment to embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion of every student.
This board has accepted this policy from the administration. The calendar for the 2022/2023 schools year has been adopted … and the homework free zones identified.
To be clear, this is not to say that, at some point in time in the future these holidays could never be added. They certainly can be. A future board and administration may find a way to make the calendar work. Collaboration between the districts may uncover a solution that will work for everyone. Maybe schools will begin earlier in August and will allow for the addition of the Eid, and Dwali and Lunar New Year and Greek Orthodox Easter and others. That is for another day.
But for now, the policy is in place. The calendar is set, and it is unlikely this current board will revisit this topic again.
SEE VIDEO HERE