Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Great New York City Calendar Chase

I have mixed feelings on this one:
Muslim parents and a city councilman criticized the city and state education departments for beginning testing of the state's elementary schoolchildren on Tuesday, the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha.

"This is a problem that could have been avoided if a little thought was put into it, not to have the exam that day," said Moustafa El-Shieakh, of the Astoria section of Queens, whose son is a fourth-grader.

Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, marks the time when Ibrahim (Abraham in the Old Testament) was asked to sacrifice his son as a test of his faith. At the last moment, God interceded and substituted a sheep. Muslims celebrate the day, which comes at the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca, with feasts and food donations to the poor.

The state set aside this week for testing of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. In New York City, schools began testing on Tuesday.

City Councilman Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat, said a letter had been sent to the education departments, calling on them not to hold testing on the holiday in the future.

"We close down schools for Christmas and Jewish holidays," he said. "All they're asking for is that they don't schedule a major test on their holiday."

City education department spokesman David Cantor said there wasn't much the city could do once the state set the dates for the exams.

State education department spokesman Tom Dunn said the calendar was consulted before the exams were scheduled to minimize religious conflicts and students who are legally absent because of religious observances can make up tests later.

El-Shieakh said having a makeup exam didn't solve the problem because Muslim children would feel singled out for having to take the test on a different day from their classmates.

But Cantor said Muslim students wouldn't be the only ones taking the makeup exam because any student who missed the first test for any reason, like illness, would have to take it then as well.
While I can certainly understand the parents' concern, I don't support the notion of students feeling "singled out" for taking the test on the make-up day. I've taught a number of Muslim students over the years and it's been my observation that even though kids will insult one another about a variety of things, they seem (for the most part) to leave religion out of it.

On the other hand, the State of New York should've used a little more tact when scheduling the exam. They certainly would not have set the examination date on any major Christian or Jewish holy days.

This was a controversy that could've been easily avoided.
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