Date & Time: Jun 14 2015 - 12:00pm
Location: The Press Box Restaurant - 932 Second Avenue (bet. 49th & 50th Sts.) - 2nd Floor
Speaker: SPEAKER: David C. Bloomfield Professor of Education Leadership, Law & Policy Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center FORMER CHIEF COUNSEL OF THE NYC BOARD OF EDUCATION
Subject: No school on Eid? A secular decision. Mayor de Blasio erred by making the addition of Muslim holidays a celebration of plurality BY DAVID BLOOMFIELD NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Sunday, March 15, 2015, 5:00 AM It's about math, not diversity No one wants to be a killjoy, but the city’s exuberant pronouncement that it is creating two new religiously-based school holidays, with the likelihood of more to come, raises constitutional questions that Mayor de Blasio needs to answer. Last week, the mayor and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that the important Muslim holy days of Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha would be added to the public school calendar, with all 1.1 million students and their teachers getting the days off in an effort “to reflect the strength and diversity of our city.” While that may be a legitimate political trope, the city’s justification fails to pass constitutional muster. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prevents government from endorsing religious practice, putting a wall between church and state. As a result, to prevent proscribed religious endorsement, public school holidays must be based on some secular purpose, the usual reason being the disruptive impact on instruction of overwhelming student and teacher absences. This has long been at least the pretext for closing schools on major Jewish and Christian holidays — there’d be too many teachers and students absent for the schools to function properly — though review of that policy is long overdue for all but Christmas, a secularized federal holiday. With changing demographics, perhaps it makes sense to shutter school on the Muslim holidays, and to do the same on Diwali and the Lunar New Year, as many advocates are now urging. But the mayor needs to make a secular case for each and all of these changes. And regarding Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, that’s been lacking. According to the Arab American Association of New York, one out of eight (12.5%) of public school students is Muslim. What does that mean for attendance on the holidays? We don’t know. Since the DOE failed to respond to a request for overall attendance rates for those holidays, let’s make an educated guess. The mayor held his press conference announcing that change at PS/IS 30 in Brooklyn, a school that, we can assume, is predominantly Muslim. At that school, 36% of all students were absent on the last Muslim holy day. Extrapolate to the system as a whole with the most generous of assumptions, and we estimate that somewhere between 4% and 8% of the total school system’s population may have taken the last Muslim holy day off school to observe — likely not the type of disruption required for closing schools, since on a typical day almost 10% of students are absent. Even if every Muslim student took the day off — as is their right under the Constitution’s Free Exercise clause and state education law — the impact would be slight and those students would face no more immediate consequence than any student with one or two days of excused absences. On the other hand, wholesale public observance of these holidays requires the families of 950,000 non-Muslim families to make special out-of-school arrangements. This drive to confer political recognition through school holidays substantially ups the ante from the city’s usual metric, suspension of alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules. Though he promises no instructional days will be lost, the mayor’s policy will mean that next year, September will be a serious instructional challenge, with Jewish and Muslim holidays hop-scotching through the calendar, disrupting continuity through Columbus Day. Add Lunar New Year and Diwali as many pols urge, and we will be putting electoral interests far above the general good, a dangerous pattern foreseen by our constitutional founders. There is no question that we should celebrate the city’s diversity. But using school holidays to confer government’s respect for religion has no basis in law and sends the wrong message to those without the power to receive such public acknowledgement.


Cost: BRUNCH is $20, which includes a selection of Buffet Entrees, salad, one soft drink, coffee, tax and tip.