Trumbull parents push to have Eid al-Fitr on the school calendar
Trumbull could soon be the latest municipality in Connecticut to designate Eid al-Fitr as a school holiday, as Muslim parents and advocates call on the district to recognize the day. They say doing so would positively impact their children’s academic progress.
Shefa Alaakoory, a mother and a teacher living in Trumbull, says the school district has dragged its feet on the issue and she’s tired of waiting.
“It's not a simple request. It is a demand at this point,” Alaakoory said.
Alaakoory isn’t the only parent feeling this way. Other Muslim parents with children in the school system said the district has not acted on their demands since parents first asked the school to recognize the day two years ago.
According to them, other districts in nearby municipalities of Bridgeport and Fairfield quickly recognized the holiday after a few months or in Fairfield’s case a few weeks of lobbying by parents, according to CT Insider. But as parents continue to lobby for the holiday, the lack of acknowledgment is also a signal the school district still doesn’t know how to approach Islam or Muslim students with nuance according to them.
It shouldn’t be hard adding Eid to the calendar according to her.
“There's no way that it's a difficult task. So just add the word Eid on the calendar,” she said.
While adding Eid to the calendar would theoretically be a simple process, doing so requires additional steps. According to minutes from a February 7, 2023 meeting, Trumbull Public Schools Superintendent Martin Semmel explained to parents who wanted Eid as a holiday, the Board of Education has a subgroup which handles holiday requests. The District Calendar Committee will meet, he said, in late spring to decide on including Eid for its 2023-2024 calendar.
But according to the director of the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center, Khaled Elleithy, he was recently told the district would consider Eid as a holiday in the fall. Doing so would mean Eid will not be included forext year’s calendar.
“At that point of time, the calendar would have been already printed with wide circulation and any decisions (sic) is pointless for 2023-2024,” Elleithy said.
Elleithy said the school has failed to act for more than two years. According to the BOE’s minutes, the first time parents pushed to include Eid as a holiday was on October 26, 2021. The minutes do not list any response by Semmel or a BOE member to that initial request.
Semmel did not respond to Connecticut Public’s requests for comment.
Elleithy’s efforts with Trumbull are a far cry compared to neighboring municipalities in Bridgeport and Fairfield, according to him. According to Elleithy, parents first approached the district in 2019 to get Eid on the calendar. But Trumbull didn’t act on the request and Elleithy said he along with parents moved on to Bridgeport and Fairfield which recognized Eid Al Fitr in April 2022 and December 2022 respectively. It took Bridgeport’s school district four months to recognize the holiday and it took Fairfield’s weeks to include the day as a holiday for students.
But Bridgeport and Fairfield are bigger than Trumbull. Trumbull’s population is at 36,950, compared to Bridgeport at 148,333 and Fairfield at 61,949. While census figures don’t tally religious populations, both municipalities have a bigger base of support for the holiday. Supporters asked residents to write letters to the school district in Bridgeport. Almost 3,000 letters were written in support of Eid as a holiday. More than 700 signed a petition for Fairfield and more than 600 did so for Trumbull.
Elleithy and other organizers have gotten support within Trumbull, and they have packed school board meetings as a way to encourage the district into accepting the day as a holiday. Doing so is also a way to exercise political power. Alaakoory said she wants local politicians who asked for Muslim residents' support to join them in lobbying for the day. Recognizing a religious holiday, while seemingly minor, is also a symbol of which religious population holds political sway in a given location, according to an op-ed published in the Religious News Service.
Getting Eid as a holiday, parents said, would help their children feel included. Shuqran Ahmed has several children in Trumbull schools. He said his children readily celebrate Christian and Jewish holidays along with their classmates.
But according to him, his children feel left out when the district doesn’t acknowledge one of the most important days in Islam.
“They do make them feel like they're not included in this community, which they should be; they’re citizens just like everybody else says,” Ahmed said.
Several Muslim students who attend the Trumbull Public School district say they’ve explained to their friends and teachers what their religion is about. This is a different situation than what Alaakoory finds herself in. Alaakoory is a teacher at a charter school in Bridgeport, she said. Over there, she said she teaches her students about the significance of a hijab and why women wear it.
Doing so makes students more culturally aware, according to her.
“I want them to understand and learn about people's differences and beliefs,” Alaakoory said.