10 Maryland school districts recognize religious holidays by name;14 don’t

By Stephen Waldron

Capital News Service

This school year, 14 of Maryland’s 24 school systems will not recognize any religious holidays — such as Christmas and Rosh Hashanah – by name.

The 14 include every school system on the Eastern Shore, and five others around the state.

These districts instead use secular terms, like “Winter Holiday” or “Spring Break,” to describe the school closings.

The 10 districts that will recognize religious holidays by name during this school year include Howard, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

The issue of using religious names for school holidays received increased attention recently when Montgomery County’s Board of Education voted to remove all references to religious holidays from its 2015-2016 calendar. (Story continues below chart.)

Muslim request

The decision came after Muslim community members called for the board to recognize the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha holidays.

Of the 10 school systems recognizing religious holidays by name this school year, six include both Christian and Jewish holidays. None of Maryland’s school districts have a policy of closing on Muslim holidays, but some school districts have closed on some Muslim holidays when they happened to fall on the same day as a Jewish holiday.

Teresa Tudor, chairwoman of the calendar committee for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said the district recognizes religious holidays by name in order to be straightforward with families about school closings.

“We specify Easter because the reason you’re getting time off is Easter,” Tudor said.

Jewish high holy days

Anne Arundel County Public Schools began recognizing and closing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur roughly a decade ago. Tudor said the decision came down to student absence rates.

“There was a push among parents and students who were Jewish, and we were at a point where our data supported closing,” Tudor said.

The district has recognized both Christian and Jewish holidays by name since then, and Tudor said there are no plans to change the practice.

During this school year, four districts recognize some religious holidays by name, but not others. Allegany County, for instance, recognizes Christmas and Easter by name, but not Rosh Hashanah.

Required in state law

Mia Cross, a spokeswoman for Allegany County Public Schools, said the district’s calendar is built around the public school holidays listed in the Annotated Code of Maryland.

These include days off for Christmas and Easter, but no other religious holidays. School districts are required to close on these holidays, unless granted an exception by the State Board of Education.

Carroll County public schools close at both Christmas and Easter and Rosh Hashanah this school year, but the district only recognizes the Jewish holiday by name. The 2014-2015 calendar refers to school closings around Christmas and Easter as “Winter/State” and “Spring Break” holidays, respectively.

Roughly 15 years ago, Carroll County Public Schools stopped recognizing Christmas and Easter by name on its calendar. During the 2009-2010 school year, the district began recognizing Jewish holidays by name.

Carroll County’s Board of Education elected to change this for the 2015-2016 calendar, which will recognize both Christian and Jewish holidays by name. The decision was in response to feedback the board received when it asked for community input on the calendar.

“Some of the public pointed out that we call every other holiday by its name,” said Carey Gaddis, supervisor of Community and Media Relations for Carroll County Public Schools.

Tracy Sahler is a member of the calendar committee for Wicomico County Public Schools, and has worked with the school system for 16 years. She said the district has kept the names of religious holidays out of its calendar for as long as she can remember.

The district refers to school closings around Christmas as “Winter Holidays” because they happen to occur in winter, Sahler said.

“They’re not religious holiday breaks. They are breaks from school,” Sahler said.