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Legal threat averted? SF schools pause plans to call off class for Muslim holidays

Students and community members urge the San Francisco Board of Education to maintain a previous vote that observes Muslim holidays on the academic calendar at a public meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022 in San Francisco. | Ida Mojadad/The Standard

The San Francisco public school district will take a step back on calling off class for additional holidays, superseding an earlier vote to add Muslim holidays to the academic calendar. 

Under the proposal by Superintendent Matt Wayne to stave off a legal threat, the San Francisco Unified School District would instead develop a criteria for adding holidays to the academic calendar. The district will not plan the 2023-24 calendar until Wayne makes recommendations in January, which will be up to the board to vote on. 

The SFUSD Board of Education voted 6-1, with Commissioner Ann Hsu dissenting, in a discussion tinged with post-recall politics.  

That puts any new holidays—including the one approved in August to recognize Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha—for the 2023-24 school year, on pause. 

The move angered community advocates, led by the Arab Organizing and Resource Center, which pushed for months for it to be added to the current school year, later agreeing to wait until the next school year for the observance of Eid. 

Several Muslim students and families showed up to the board meeting on Tuesday, expressing disappointment in the reversal, seeing it as giving into an attack on their community. They again attested to the hardships of missing school to celebrate an important holiday that they must explain to teachers. 

“Muslims may be a minority, but we matter,” said Aisha Majdoub, a high school sophomore in the district. “Eid to us is Christmas to you. How would people feel if they had to wake up groggy Christmas morning and upset they had to go to school instead of spending time with family?” 

The district’s reversal comes in direct response to an Aug. 18 letter from attorney Paul Scott—who was behind the lawsuit over the renaming schools—who demanded the board rescind the resolution or face litigation. He argued that the board violated open meeting laws in passing the resolution and the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which does not allow government entities to favor one religion over the other. 

Public schools in cities like New York City and Detroit close schools in observance of Eid. Several people noted in public comment that SFUSD closes to observe Christmas and Lunar New Year. (Eid al-Fitr is in April while Eid al-Adha is over the summer.)

All commissioners but Hsu thanked community members for coming again and apologized for the back and forth.

“I’m so sorry this has to be necessary,” Commissioner Mark Sanchez said before the vote. “I’m prepared to support this resolution, but I do so feeling as though I’ve been held hostage by racist and Islamophobic forces who make up a minority of our forward-thinking city.”

Hsu, the embattled commissioner who voted against the original resolution, called for an amendment that explicitly rescinded the August resolution recognizing Eid to satisfy demands of the legal memo. Scott, the lawyer behind the letter, told The Standard on Friday that he was “encouraged” by the steps appearing to “take corrective action.”

“It exposes our district to the risk of another lawsuit,” Hsu said. “It would also signal that this board is no different than the last board, in which three members were recalled.”

The amendment failed 5-2, with Commissioner Lainie Motamedi joining Hsu. 

The board ultimately approved Wayne’s resolution. AROC pledged to keep pressing the district to observe Eid after recommendations are made. 

“They were extremely, extremely happy,” Wassim Hage, an organizer with AROC, said of Muslim children he works with hearing about the original resolution. “Now we have to tell them there’s this complicated lawsuit, this resolution is starting, we have to make sure these people listen to us again. It’s kind of apparent how disrespectful, how Islamophobic, how racist this process has been so far.”

Scott, the lawyer behind the letter, told The Standard on Friday that he was “encouraged” by the steps appearing to “take corrective action.”