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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Legal Threat Averted? SF Schools Pause Plans to Call Off Class for Muslim Holidays


The San Francisco Public School District will take a step back in canceling classes with extra holidays, replacing an earlier vote to add Muslim holidays to the academic calendar.

Under a proposal by Superintendent Matt Wayne to avoid legal threats, the San Francisco Unified School District will instead set standards for adding holidays to the school calendar. The district will not plan a 2023-24 calendar until Wayne proposes in January, which will be decided by a board vote.

The SFUSD Board of Education voted 6-1, with Commissioner Ann Hsu dissenting, in a post-recall political discussion.

This leaves any new holidays for the 2023-24 school year – including Eid and Eid al-Adha approved in August – on hold.

The move angered community advocates led by the Arab Organization and Resource Center, which pushed for months to add it to the current school year and later agreed to wait until the next school year to celebrate Eid al-Fitr.

Several Muslim students and families attended a board meeting on Tuesday, expressing disappointment at the reversal, which they saw as an attack on their community. They once again proved the hardships of missing school in order to celebrate an important holiday that they had to explain to their teachers.

“Muslims may be a minority, but we are important,” said Aisha Majdoub, a sophomore at the district’s high school. “Eid al-Fitr is Christmas for us. How would people feel if they had to wake up groggy on Christmas morning but had to go to school instead of spending time with their families?”

The district’s revocation is a direct response to an Aug. 18 letter from attorney Paul Scott — who is behind the school’s name-changing lawsuit — asking the board to reverse the resolution or face lawsuits. He argues that in passing the resolution, the board violated the Open Meetings Act and the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which does not allow government entities to favor one religion over another.

Public schools in cities like New York City and Detroit closed schools to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. Some have pointed out in public comments that SFUSD is closed to celebrate Christmas and Chinese New Year. (Eid al-Fitr is in April, while Eid al-Adha is in summer.)

All committee members, except Xu, thanked the community members for coming back and apologized for the back and forth.

“I’m sorry this has to be necessary,” Commissioner Mark Sanchez said before the vote. “I am ready to support this resolution, but I feel as though I am being held hostage by the forces of racism and Islamophobia that are a minority in our visionary city.”

Xu is an embattled commissioner vote against the original resolution, demanding an amendment to explicitly repeal the August resolution recognizing Eid al-Fitr to meet the requirements of the Memorandum of Law. Scott, the lawyer behind the letter, told the Standard on Friday that he was “encouraged” by the steps that appeared to “take corrective action.”

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“This puts our district at risk of another lawsuit,” Xu said. “It also shows that this board is no different from the previous board, where three members were recalled.”

The amendment lost 5-2, with Commissioner Lainie Motamedi joining Hsu.

The board eventually approved Wayne’s resolution. AROC pledged to continue urging the region to observe Eid al-Fitr following its recommendations.

“They were very, very happy,” AROC organizer Wasim Hag said of the Muslim children he worked with hearing the initial resolution. “Now we have to tell them this is a complex lawsuit, this resolution is starting, and we have to make sure these people hear us again. It’s clear how disrespectful, how Islamophobic, how racial the process has been so far. doctrine.”

Scott, the lawyer behind the letter, told the Standard on Friday that he was “encouraged” by the steps that appeared to “take corrective action.”


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