A Lodi mom is starting a petition to add Eid al-Fitr to California’s list of holidays that would automatically excuse a child from school. The 24-hour Muslim holiday falls after 30 days of fasting during daylight to observe Ramadan each year, and this year will fall on Aug. 7 and 8 — in the first week of the 2013-14 school year.
Veronica Aziz lives near Blakely Park with her husband and three sons. She and her family are Muslim and attend the Lodi Mosque. Growing up, she remembers missing a day of school each year for the family gathering and prayers.
“We just didn’t go to school. Our community was so small that if we missed a day it didn’t matter,” said Aziz. But her children don’t like to miss school. They tell their mother if they miss one day they will fall behind.
“They get upset,” she said. “I want to be able to tell them not to worry.”
The Lodi Unified School District allows children to take the day off as an excused absence, according to California education code. This differs from an unexcused absence, which means a child cannot make up any homework assignments or tests from that day — but it still counts as an absence.
Aziz would like the district to allow students of all faiths to miss school for religious holidays without counting it as an absence.
At Borchardt Elementary School, where 10 to 15 percent of the children come from Muslim families, principal Janis Morehead and the teachers put a major emphasis on perfect attendance. Those who make it through a full semester without missing a day — even for an excused absence — get ice cream at lunch just before the winter or summer break.
The incentive makes sense for the school. It’s a simple prize, but high daily attendance keeps money flowing into school coffers.
Aziz’s youngest son, Sajaad Aziz, is nine years old and attends Borchardt. Aziz said he is reluctant to miss any school, even for a day when his whole family is together and he may even be getting gifts from grandparents.
Eid al-Fitr follows Ramadan, when the faithful do not eat, drink or let anything pass their lips from sunrise to sunset for 30 days.
At the end of the month, when the moon is visible in the night sky, the family comes together for a meal. The next day is spent in prayer and with family.
“Children still go to school for (Ramadan). They still keep up all their activities,” said Aziz. “Our prayers are to thank God for letting us know the meaning of Ramadan. It is acknowledging fact that people around the world are hungry, and helps us be more thankful for what we have.”
Aziz’s children went to school last year. They begged not to be kept home, she said, to keep up their perfect attendance.
Among Borchardt’s 800 students, 133 earned their ice cream last semester. Morehead said that many other families will be making the choice between religion and school, with Good Friday coming up in a few weeks.
“It’s not perfect attendance minus the flu, or perfect attendance minus when you broke your arm. And it’s not perfect attendance minus the day you took off for a religious observation. You make a commitment with religion, and with that comes sacrifices,” Morehead said. “I don’t have time to keep track of perfect attendance except for this or that. Perhaps the family can take them for a treat of their own.”
Aziz said it’s not about a scoop of ice cream. It’s about teaching her kids that school and their religious faith are equally important.
Aziz contacted the district and spoke with Superintendent Catherine Pennington. Pennington explained that providing an excused absence for a religious holiday isn’t a local decision, and a petition must be submitted to the state.
However, Giorgos Kazanis, a representative from the California Department of Education, said school districts have more leeway on these decisions than they think.
“Generally, most of these decisions are made on a local level,” he said.
Aziz is not sure how far a petition would go. But she is willing to try.
“I don’t want to ask the question, ‘Should I let you go to school that day?’” she said. “There would be peace of mind for us, and I could tell my children, ‘Tomorrow is our day.’”
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.