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Florida School Board To Keep Religious Holidays

Following a firestorm of criticism, a Florida school board voted Monday to abandon its plan to drop all religious holidays except for Christmas from the school calendar.

The Hillsborough school board, representing a district that includes Tampa and surrounding suburbs, scrapped its plan to keep classrooms open on Yom Kippur, Good Friday and the Monday after Easter. School board members had decided to drop the holidays, rather than accommodate a request from Muslim leaders to add a vacation day for the last day of Ramadan.

After the no-holiday calendar was approved on October 25, the school district, the country’s ninth largest, faced a wave of protests from conservative politicians and commentators, and found itself at the center of a raging controversy over how American society should respond to the nation’s increasing religious diversity. Hundreds of parents, irate about losing the holidays, peppered the board with angry phone calls and e-mails.

Jewish communal leaders in the Tampa area say they have tried to walk a fine line between representing the overwhelming majority of Jews who would like to see the Yom Kippur break reinstated and standing up for the rights of a fellow religious minority.

Muslims and Jews each account for less than 3% of Tampa-area residents. Yet, beginning in 2001, the school board has given students a day off for Yom Kippur, but not for any Muslim holiday.

Prior to this week’s school board meeting, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which first requested the day off for the holiday of Eid Al Fitr in December 2004, had asked school officials to restore the Christian and Jewish holidays.

“We’ve never asked them to remove anyone else’s holiday,” Ahmed Bedier, the group’s Florida spokesman, told the St. Petersburg Times. “We just asked to be included.”

Jewish communal leaders have expressed a preference for schools being closed on Yom Kippur, but said they would accept the removal of holidays from the vacation schedule.

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