Edmonton

Edmonton Public Schools calendar tweaked for 2 more inclusive holidays

When families are gathered together eating Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, most kids aren't thinking about homework due at school the next day.

' I just see this as a great, wonderful opportunity to bring everyone together'

Mohammed Hussain's family celebrates Eid Ul Adha in Edmonton. (Submitted by Mohammed Hussain)

When families are gathered together eating Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, most kids aren't thinking about homework due at school the next day.

But that wasn't the case for Timiro Mohamed's family when they celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr or Eid-ul-Adha.

"You can't celebrate in the same way around the dinner table, talking and laughing and experiencing a holiday that matters so much to you," said Mohamed, the youth initiatives manager at Islamic Family Services.

"You're thinking about an assignment that's due tomorrow or somebody is missing."

An announcement two years ago that the Edmonton Public School Board was looking at cutting five school days due to budget cuts sparked an idea.

"It's kind of a cool opportunity if they're already dropping five days from the school year to use this as a time for collective action in the community," Mohamed said.

Since 2020, a group of more than 30 students, leaders, parents and teachers has been working with the Edmonton Public School board to build a school calendar that includes days off for significant religious holidays.

After consulting with several communities in Edmonton, the group settled on Bandi Chhor Divas, Diwali, Eid-ul-Adha, Eid-ul-Fitr, Indigenous Peoples Day, Lunar New Year, Winter Solstice & Yom Kippur 

Adding the holidays to the school calendar would only require shifting four school days. 

Board meeting

A vote by the Edmonton Public School Board on Tuesday approved a 2022-23 calendar that made some minor tweaks to the school year.

Multiple speakers told the board how including more inclusive holidays could make some students feel more welcome and increase understanding between those of different backgrounds.

A note attached to the calendar report from Superintendent Darrel Robertson said that administration has "identified operational challenges" to accommodate all the days requested.

Only two non-instructional days were implemented — a professional development day on Oct. 24, 2022 for Bandi Chhor Divas and Diwali as well as an amendment to give students National Indigenous Peoples Day off.

The division has created a multi-faith calendar to help guide teachers and administrators in planning and avoid scheduling events on days of significance.

'It's just part of my identity'

"I always wished that I could have that time with family because it's just part of my identity. It's part of how I grew up, and it's how we gather and celebrate," Mohamed said. "The same way that I was always used to having time off on Christmas."

Grace Martin School in Mill Woods observes Eid as a statutory holiday, as do school boards in New York, New Jersey and Austin.

Individual schools within EPSB already adapt calendars to fit larger absences on holidays.

Mohammed Hussain, father of three, pulls his kids out of school for Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr.

They're not alone, he said, as usually about 10 children are away on those days.

"Sometimes there are double-digit absences on each day," Hussain said."So the teachers and the principals, they actually work with the community and they decide to cover less material on those specific days."

Hussain thinks making the change would be more reflective of the student body and society as a whole.

"What we've seen over the last few years is there's been so many efforts to divide the populations and demographic and people and so on," Hussain said. "And I just see this as a great, wonderful opportunity to bring everyone together."

Mohamed has already met with the Edmonton Public School Board three times and presented again on Tuesday. 

"The perfect scenario is that after our conversation, the holidays that we've been advocating for are recognized not only as part of an interfaith calendar but that they're actually built in as statutory holidays as part of EPSB."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Fitzpatrick

Video Journalist

Emily Fitzpatrick is a video journalist with CBC Edmonton.

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