Mar 22, 2023 - Politics & Policy

An increasing number of U.S. school districts now observe Ramadan

Photo of a copy of the Quran sitting on a chair next to a book titled "Symbols of Islam"

Activist Maha ElGenaidi gives a talk to students about Islam. Photo: Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Schools across the U.S. are increasingly moving to recognize Ramadan — a month on the Islamic calendar dedicated to fasting, prayer and community — and bolster support for Muslim students.

Driving the news: Muslim students in dozens of cities have in recent years pushed schools to recognize the holy month of Ramadan the same way other religious holidays are recognized. Those calls have increased as the Muslim population in the U.S. continues to grow — Pew Research Center projected in 2018 that Islam could be the U.S.'s second-largest religion by 2040.

Context: The holy month of Ramadan is considered one of the most joyous times of the year for Muslims. The start and end dates vary depending on the year — in 2023, it begins this week.

  • During the month, Muslims typically fast from sunrise to sunset, focus on self-reflection, study the Quran and spend time with family — especially during iftar, or the breaking of one's fast.
  • At school, that can translate to needing a quiet room for prayer, approval to refrain from strenuous physical activity and permission to take tests earlier in the day when they're more alert.

State of play: In recent years, student-led advocacy in both blue and red states has pushed school districts to recognize Ramadan and observe Eid al-Fitr — the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan — as a holiday.

  • In January, the Watchung Borough School District in New Jersey decided to close schools on Eid al-Fitr in the 2023-2024 school year. The Fairfield Board of Education in Connecticut similarly voted in December to give students the day off.
  • In Florida, the Miami-Dade County School Board designated it a teacher planning day with no student attendance in the 2023-2024 school year, while the Palm Beach County School Board approved days off in April 2024 and March 2025 to celebrate Eid al-Fitr — though not without facing Islamophobic sentiment.
  • The Hilliard City Schools Board of Education in Ohio voted in July to add Eid al-Fitr as a holiday for the 2023-2024 academic year. The school board in Mehlville, Missouri also decided to make Eid al-Fitr a holiday last April after studying attendance and absence trends.

Worth noting: The San Francisco Board of Education passed a resolution last August to recognize Eid al-Fitr as a holiday beginning in the 2023-2024 school year but reneged after backlash, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • The board has agreed to move next year's spring break so it lines up with the Islamic calendar's Eid celebrations, but Muslim students are pushing for a reinstatement of the resolution.
  • Other U.S. school districts that do not currently observe it as a holiday have taken steps to make accommodations for students during Ramadan.

The big picture: Research shows that students are better positioned to succeed academically, feel a sense of belonging and retain a healthy state of well-being in school climates that embrace students' diverse backgrounds.

  • Advocates also say formal observance of Eid al-Fitr would promote inclusion and help mitigate discrimination.
  • A 2021 report found that bullying against Muslim students continues to rise at a rapid rate — including one instance where a Muslim teen accused her teacher of calling her a terrorist and another incident in which two students allegedly attacked a Muslim peer and ripped off her hijab.

Don't forget: The U.S. Department of Education issued guidance in 2020 stating that prayer during non-instructional time is constitutionally protected for Muslim students.

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