By Kayla Lupoli-Nolan and Nikolas Donadic
Two Muslim holidays in June and August weren’t added to the Hewlett-Woodmere school calendar, which released its official 2018-19 calendar yesterday morning.
The calendar was filed following a heated community debate which included racist remarks during two school board meetings, and a condemnation of those remarks issued by the district’s administration.
The board voted unanimously against adding Eid-al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the fast of Ramadan, and Eid-al-Adha, the festival marking the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorating Abraham, to the school calendar during its last meeting on January 17th.
The vote in Hewlett-Woodmere came on the heels of other Long Island districts—such as Syosset, Jericho, and Valley Stream 13, 24, and 30—adding the holidays to their respective school calendars.
It also put an end to the yearlong effort by grandmother and longtime resident Shahnaz Mallik to get them added to the district’s calendar. She began a Change.org petition for the holidays to be added to the school calendar last February and sent a written proposal to the district’s superintendent on February 28th, 2017. “I was told that the school calendar is finalized and distributed in January,” she said.
The 2018-19 calendar was finalized at the January 17th meeting, which featured input from over 40 community members, and was discussed in detail at the January 10th meeting. Both meetings lasted nearly four hours, which is nearly double the length of the typical board meeting.
“The people who were opposed to adding Eid made a number of inappropriate comments,” Mallik said. “[They] called one person terrorist, ridiculed the petition and called it fake.” Another person said, quite bluntly, “They [Muslims] kill us.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, also unearthed an anonymous text message, sent on January 16th, which encouraged community members to show up to the board meeting and vote against the addition of the holidays.
“Observance of a Muslim holidays will draw other religious Muslims to the area, which eventually would make our houses value go down, as no decent person would want to buy a house next to that.” the sender, whose name was not revealed, said to other residents.
As a result of the derogatory remarks made at the meetings and the text message, Hewlett-Woodmere Superintendent Ralph Marino Jr. and Board of Education President Scott McInnes released a joint statement. “We cannot allow the voices of a few to divide our extraordinary community,” they said.
“It is our fervent hope that we can put the events of the past several weeks behind us and move forward as one unified and diverse community,” the statement continued.
Hewlett-Woodmere’s Relations Director Barbara Giese also released a statement on the matter. It joined in condemning the remarks made, but also explained that “[The] Board exercised its discretion and determined that insufficient secular purpose would be achieved by closure on these days.”
Hewlett-Woodmere’s student population is 64% Caucasian, with every other ethnicity accounting for under 15%, according to enrollment data collected by the state of New York. The aforementioned district with the closest makeup to this is Syosset, which is 60% Caucasian but also has a significant Asian/Pacific Islander population (34%)
The three Valley Stream districts are all under 30% Caucasian and over 64% African-American, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific-Islander. Meanwhile, Jericho is 41% Caucasian and consists of 54% Asian or Pacific-Islander students.
When the decision was made to add the holidays in Jericho, “[The] community was very supportive,” said Henry L. Grishman, the Superintendent of Jericho Public Schools.
The state would accommodate the students who needed to self-absent, he added; a right which Hewlett-Woodmere has also firmly stood behind.
The next Hewlett-Woodmere school board meeting will take place on the evening of February 7th. The subject of the school calendar is not listed on the official agenda; although, there will be time for community members to be heard on non-agenda items, at the end of the meeting.
“I have resided in this neighborhood since 1988. I never felt that people around us hate us so much,” Mallik said.