FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- Why is the Fairfax County School Board considering three calendar for 2021-2022?
- Why is the interfaith community opposed to Calendar Option C?
- Aren’t public school systems forbidden from closing on religious holidays?
- Are other school systems in the area closed on these days?
- Do options A and B favor some minority faiths over others?
- Will these closures lead to shorter winter breaks or extending the school year to the third week of June?
- Shouldn't we focus on the pandemic right now and ensure students have as many days as possible in school?
- What can I do to help?
Why is the Fairfax County School Board considering three calendar for 2021-2022?
Last year, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) staff proposed two calendar options for the 2021-2022 academic year to the School Board, Calendar Option A and Calendar Option B. Both introduced school closures on days coinciding with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid and Diwali. These changes were based on the recommendations of the School Board’s Religious Observances Task Force and the FCPS Calendar Committee and welcomed by the growing number of minority-faith FCPS families, faculty and employees.
FCPS presented Calendar Options A and B to the public as the only options under consideration and gave the impression that the four holidays would be included in the next academic calendar. But a vote to formalize the decision was delayed due to the pandemic. On February 2, 2021, the School Board held the first work session addressing the calendar issue and, without any notice to the public or to the Religious Observances Task Force, added Calendar Option C. The third option does not include the four recommended closure days.
Why is the interfaith community opposed to Calendar Option C?
Our concerns are fourfold.
- The School Board’s tactics and lack of transparency violate the precepts of “good government” and deeply disrespect the members of the Religious Observances Task Force who devoted 18 months to producing the requested recommendations.
- Rejecting the Task Force and the Calendar Committee’s input and retaining a calendar impervious to Fairfax’s richly diverse population contradicts the spirit of One Fairfax, a policy that commits the School Board to social and racial equity. It also leaves Fairfax behind our neighboring jurisdictions, who have adopted more inclusive school calendars.
- Option C moves FCPS backwards in the task of addressing long-standing academic inequity, discrimination and marginalization directed against minority faith students and employees. School-based antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and bias are on the rise, and now, more than ever, FCPS must stand up for mutual respect, cultural competency, and diversity.
- The pitting of academic equity against religious equity is a false binary that unnecessarily sows division and conflict among people of different faiths, races and ethnicities. Rather than fulfilling its obligations to all students or recognizing the intersectionality between marginalized communities, the School Board is driving a wedge between the Muslim, Hindu and Jewish communities and the Black, Brown and special needs communities.
Aren’t public school systems forbidden from closing on religious holidays?
No. Public school systems may close on days that coincide with religious observances if there is a secular justification for doing so. Such justifications include significant numbers of student and employee absences that present a logistic and administrative burden to the school system and can be avoided through school closures.
Many school systems across the United States close on the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and many have recently instituted closures coinciding with Diwali, Eid-al-Fitr, and Eid-al-Adha. School systems also close for Christmas, and in some states Easter Monday. These closures do not constitute government endorsement of religion or constitute adoption of a “sectarian” rather than a “secular” school calendar.
Are other school systems in the area closed on these days?
Yes. Nearly all of Fairfax’s neighboring counties in Northern Virginia have implemented closures on some or all of these holidays:
- Arlington County – closed on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr and Diwali
- Falls Church City – closed on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr and Diwali
- Loudoun County – closed on Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr , and Diwali
- Prince William County – closed on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr and Diwali
Do options A and B favor some minority faiths over others?
No. The Task Force (which included Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i, and Christian representatives from different cultural and ethnic communities) determined that these specific closures were justified for two reasons. First, the Jewish, Muslim and Hindu populations in Northern Virginia have skyrocketed over the last two decades. For example, the Jewish community grew by 80% from 2003 to 2017. Second, not every minority faith requires school closures as a critical accommodation. For some minority-faith communities, issues regarding bullying, clothing, food, lack of cultural competency, and curricular inaccuracies are far bigger concerns. FCPS’ Religious Observances Task Force was beginning to delve into those issues as well when the pandemic temporarily halted our work.
Will these closures lead to shorter winter breaks or extending the school year to the third week of June?
The School Board is tasked with balancing the needs of all stakeholders when adopting an academic calendar each year. Our coalition believes that FCPS staff and the School board are fully capable of implementing the recommended closures without causing undue hardship, just as school boards in nearly all of Fairfax’s neighboring jurisdictions have done by making modest calendar adjustments.
Shouldn't we focus on the pandemic right now and ensure students have as many days as possible in school?
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked terrible harm on all of our students, and that Black, Brown, low-income and special needs students have endured disproportionate academic loss. Faith communities have been some of the most vocal advocates encouraging local school systems to address this crisis, and many minority faith children are among those most negatively impacted by distance learning.
The School Board has a responsibility to ensure equity for all FCPS students. We strongly object to the Board’s suggestion that there is a choice between “academic equity” and “religious equity.” At a time of acute racial and social polarization, the Board should strive to unite minority groups instead of driving a wedge between the Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish communities and the Black, Brown and special needs communities.
The four new closure days will not meaningfully impact the enormous academic losses suffered by vulnerable students after nearly a year of distance learning, but denying the closures will unfairly disadvantage children of minority faith
What can I do to help?
- If you are a clergy member, or faith or community leader, add your name to our Interfaith Sign-On Letter here. Please share with colleagues and religious institutions via listservs, professional networks, social media and personal outreach.
- If you are an FCPS student age 13 years or older, sign on to a student petition on this issue, here.
- If you are a community member, contact the School Board. It is critical that the Board hear from a large number of their constituents on this issue. Please reach out to your School Board representatives and the three at-large board members. You can look up your School Board member here and find a complete list of members here.
- Create buzz on Social Media! Check out our coalition resource page on the JCRC website, which includes links to media coverage of this issue. Please share news links, relevant posts and tweets on your social media feeds.