Westborough Public Schools Scrap Good Friday Day Off, Go With Full Days Off For Muslim and Hindu Holidays

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2024/03/14/westborough-public-schools-scrap-good-friday-day-off-go-with-full-days-off-for-muslim-and-hindu-holidays/

Good Friday will no longer be a day off for students in Westborough, Massachusetts, starting next school year.

Instead, the school will give students days off for a Hindu holiday and another for a Muslim holiday.

During the January 31, 2024 meeting of the Westborough School Committee, the committee approved changes recommended by Superintendent Amber Bock to the school year calendar.

Those changes included making both Diwali and Eid al-Fitr full days off, and Lunar New Year a half day off. Currently, the school observes none of those days as holidays. Conversely, it would make Good Friday a half day — a holiday that is currently a full day off in the district.

The committee voted 4-1 to make that happen.

Stephen Doret, Kristen Vincent, Steven Bachelor, and Sarah Shamsuddin voted in favor of the change.

Jakub Moskal, a Polish immigrant, provided the lone no vote.

Moskal said that, in many cases, the point of closing school for holidays is that, if school were to be held on those days, attendance would be so low that it would not make sense to hold school on those days — and that he doesn’t think Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, and Lunar New Year reach that bar, unlike state and federal holidays. 

“How are we supposed to respond to future requests if somebody comes, every person of a different tradition, religious or non-religious, and asks about their holiday?” Moskal said during the January 31, 2024 meeting. “Are we going to include every possible holiday? I don’t think we can. That’s why I don’t think doing this is the right approach.”

Moskal added that 17 of the 42 school weeks of the year are already fragmented, which is to say they either feature half days or days off. He cited concerns about child care costs, classroom disruptions, access to special education, and lengthening the school year — especially when factoring in snow days.

Plus, he cited concerns about taking a holiday away from one religious group in favor of others.

“In addition, the proposed change might be perceived as taking time from one religious holiday to make room for another, which clearly goes against the spirit of the proposal and we don’t want to express that to the community,” Moskal said during the meeting. 

During the meeting, Bock said she didn’t think a full day off for Good Friday is necessary for Christians.

“It allows for Christians, and I will speak as a Christian here, that you can still do a 12 o’clock or a 4 o’clock service if you want,” Bock said during the January 31, 2024 meeting. “You could attend the Maundy Thursday service on Thursday night and you have Easter on Sunday. And because it doesn’t move the Lunar New Year, that becomes a stable option.”

Bock also said that she thinks that observing holidays only celebrated by small minorities of the population is good for inclusivity.

“In a community like Westborough, we have so many faith communities, something that makes us an inclusive and caring community, while we have areas to grow, as we’ve heard tonight, we give families time for these kinds of celebrations,” Bock said during the meeting. “I think it’s beautiful to hear that our students learn about these things and they enter the world more culturally perficient for being in our district.”

Good Friday is a Christian holiday that marks the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is one of the holiest days of the year for Christians, who comprise a majority of the country. Many Christians go to church services that day, which typically take place at noon, at 3 p.m., or in the evening. Some Christians also try to maintain silence between the hours of noon and 3 p.m., the time Jesus hung on the cross.

The calendar change in Westborough next year means that the district will offer no day off associated with Easter, the holiest Christian day of the year. 

While Good Friday got a demotion — and will be a half day in the district on April 19, 2025 — students will have all of November 1, 2024 off for Diwali; a half day on January 29, 2025, for Lunar New Year; and a full day off on March 31, 2025, for Eid-Al Fitr.

Diwali, which celebrates light over darkness, is a holiday celebrated primarily by Hindus, who are a majority of the population in India. Indians typically celebrate the five or six-day festival with decorations, fireworks, and family gatherings. Other eastern religions also celebrate Diwali, including Sikhs, Jains, and Newar Buddhists.

Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of Ramadan, a month commemorated by them with fasting, abstinence, charitable giving, and prayer.

Lunar New Year, observed by various Asian cultures, celebrates the start of the lunar calendar with various festivals and feasts. Though a secular holiday with customs that vary among countries and ethnic groups, Lunar New Year often draws from cultural practices of Eastern religions, including folk religions.

About 63 percent of Americans are Christian, while just 1.1 percent are Muslim and about 1 percent are Hindu. Among ethnic groups, 1.35 percent of Americans are Indian, and 7 percent are Asian.

Many Americans who don’t identify with Christian faiths observe many of its cultural practices; 81 percent of Americans celebrate Easter. 

Westborough Public Schools serve 3,887 students from pre-kindergarten through Grade 12, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Westborough is a town in eastern Worcester County with a population of about 21,500 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Bock could not be reached for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday. 

The calendar changes were first reported by Community Advocate, a news web site that covers Westborough, on Monday, March 11.


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