Schools Rethink Holidays

September 9, 2007



Cliffside Park schools this year will be the first in Bergen County to close for a Muslim holiday -- a reflection of demographic shifts that are forcing North Jersey educators to rethink the school calendar.

The district joins a handful statewide -- including Paterson and Prospect Park -- that now close for some Islamic celebrations.

"School calendars reflect their communities and they are not just Judeo-Christian anymore,'' said Rich Vespucci of the state Department of Education. "In a state like New Jersey, which is a gateway into the United States, it's not unusual to see changes in the calendar."

Districts generally don't close school entirely unless a substantial number of students or staff are likely to be absent. The state now recognizes 77 holidays celebrated by six different religions -- from the Sikh New Year to Buddha's birthday -- in its list of excused absences for public school students. Students who are observing a holiday may take off without penalty.

The list of approved religious holidays has doubled since the 1990s.