Muslim school holiday recognition unlikely in Canada

NYC schools will close for Muslim holidays Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Mayor Bill de Blasio says

By Aleksandra Sagan, CBC News
March 7, 2015

Despite a move by New York City to close its schools for two Muslim holidays starting next fall, it’s unlikely anyone but Muslim Canadian students will be allowed to miss those school days north of the border. But some wonder if at least some Canadian schools should follow the Big Apple’s lead.

When New York City schools close their doors for Eid al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice) and Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), students « will no longer have to choose between honouring the most sacred days on their calendar or attending school, » Mayor Bill de Blasio said when he made the announcement earlier this week.

Canada isn’t « anywhere near that point, » says Mihad Fahmy. She’s the head of the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ human rights committee and a labour and human rights lawyer.

Canada’s human rights laws do not allow schools to penalize students for missing class to observe certain religious holidays. Students can ask for permission to be absent from school for their religion’s holy days, including Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr for Muslims.

« School boards have a duty to accommodate kids, students to the point of undue hardship. That’s the standard, » says Fahmy.

Those same laws also protect teachers who wish to observe religious practices during school hours. In 1994, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of three Jewish teachers who sought compensation for a day’s work after missing school for Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday, about a decade earlier.

Few families approach the Muslim organization for help securing days off for religious holidays, and Fahmy mostly deals with student requests for prayer space.

She doesn’t believe Canadian schools need to have a blanket recognition of Muslim holidays, so long as they allow individual students the day off and avoid planning school events and tests on those days…