Are School Calendars Equitable?

This lesson explores the debate about whether public schools, which typically close on major Christian and Jewish holidays, should also shutter for important celebrations in other faiths.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • differentiate between fact and opinion
  • compare and contrast two news articles on the same topic
  • identify and evaluate solutions to a complex social problem
Essential Questions
  • What are some reasons people believe schools should be closed for Muslim holidays?
  • What factors should school and government leaders consider when deciding whether or not to honor religious holidays?
  • Enduring Understandings:
    • People who support closing schools for Muslim holidays believe doing so promotes tolerance, multiculturalism, and equality.
    • School and government leaders should consider a community’s demographics and diversity in determining whether or not to close for religious holidays as well as balance educational, logistical, and cultural objectives in determining whether or not to close for religious holidays.


Christmas [ kris məs ] (noun) This Christian holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe Jesus was the son of God. They celebrate the holiday by feasting, giving gifts, and being with family. The holiday falls on December 25 each year.

Eid Ul-Adha [ ēd oŏl ädə ] (noun) This Muslim holiday marks the end of the hajj, which is the pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah that every Muslim must take during his or her life. Eid Ul-Adha is a day of thanksgiving and is celebrated by everyone, not just by those who make the pilgrimage in a given year. It commemorates the belief that Abraham obeyed God’s command to sacrifice his son Ishmael. The holiday is one of remembrance and forgiveness.

Eid Ul-Fitr [ ēd oŏl fētr ] (noun) This holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The name of the holiday means “Festival of Fast-Breaking,” which refers to breaking the fast (not eating) that is observed from sunup to sundown every day during Ramadan. People celebrate the holiday by praying, feasting, and visiting family. They also give to charity, which is required of every Muslim.

Good Friday [ goŏd frī dā ] (noun) Good Friday is the day Christians believe that Jesus died. Three days later, on Easter Sunday, they celebrate their belief that Jesus rose from the dead after being executed by Roman soldiers. Good Friday is marked with prayer; Easter is celebrated with feasting. Both holidays are observed during early to late spring.

Passover [ pas ō vər ] (noun) Passover celebrates the freeing of Jewish slaves from Egypt. The holiday lasts for eight days, usually in March or April. During Passover, Jews eat matzo (unleavened bread) because those fleeing from Egypt did not have time to allow their bread to rise. People mark the holiday in a special prayer service at home.

Yom Kippur [ yôm kiˈpoŏr ] (noun) Yom Kippur, usually in September or October, is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish community. The name of the holiday means “Day of Atonement.” To atone means to apologize. On Yom Kippur, Jews ask for forgiveness for the things they have done wrong during the year. They pray and fast from sundown one day to sundown on the next day.


Suggested Procedure

1. Point out to students that every religion has important holidays. Some examples include: Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter; Jews celebrate Yom Kippur and Passover; Muslims celebrate Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha. Share the holiday definitions with the class. Then, discuss the reasons for and details of each of these holidays.

2. Conduct a close reading of the two news stories. Pass out copies of the articles “Should Schools Close for Muslim Holidays?” and “New York City Adds 2 Muslim Holy Days to Public School Calendar”. Ask students to read each article carefully, seeking its main idea. Have students jot down any unfamiliar words and/or concepts. After they’ve finished the articles, give the class a few minutes to look up new vocabulary. Ask pupils to read the articles again, this time underlining each opinion noted in the articles. Students should also circle any possible solutions or compromises reached in the debate over whether schools should close for Muslim holidays.

3. Divide the class into small groups. Working together, have students identify opinions in the articles that support closing schools for Muslim holidays and opinions that object to closing schools for those holidays.

4. As a class, discuss some of the ways communities in the articles have tried to find solutions to whether or not to close schools for Muslim holidays. Ask: “What are the pros and cons of each solution?”

5. Ask each student to write a 500-word essay expressing his or her opinion about which solution has the best chance of working, based on the facts and opinions in the articles.

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS RI.4, RI.5, RI.8, W.1, W.4, W.9, SL.1, SL.2, W. 6


Extension Activity

Individually or in pairs, ask students to create a presentation designed to persuade officials in the community to adopt their solution to whether or not schools should close for Muslim holidays. Remind them to support their point of view with factual evidence and reasoned judgment. Encourage students to include graphics, interviews, and/or personal appeals.

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