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Iowa City Schools to take days off for Muslim and Jewish holidays, following student-led campaign

Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 11:14 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Thanks in large part to the relentlessness of a current student, all students and staff in the Iowa City Community School District will see changes on the calendar starting next school year.

On Tuesday, the Iowa City school board voted to change the 2021-2022 school calendar to include days off on May 3 for the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Fitr and on Sept. 16 for the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.

Reem Kirja, an eighth grader at Northwest Junior High School in Coralville, has been petitioning the district to include the Muslim holy days of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as days off on its calendar for the last three years. The two holidays are determined by the lunar cycle, so they don’t fall on the same day every year and are not necessarily celebrated during the school year, as their dates can sometimes fall during the summer break. In 2022, Eid al-Adha will be celebrated in July.

Last fall, Kirja renewed her push by launching the “No School on Eid” campaign, forming a club, the Ideal Reality Union, and writing an online petition that had collected nearly 7,000 signatures, as of Tuesday night.

Over the last three years, she has also spoken at school board meetings in the hopes of persuading board members to change the calendar, starting when she was in elementary school.

“I’m just amazed by how persistence can somehow change your life,” Kirja said.

Kirja said this change would not only help Muslim students like herself celebrate her faith — she compared Muslim students going to school on Eid to Christian students having to go to school on Christmas — but she hopes it will also promote more diversity and inclusion in the district.

“I hope that more people are informed about Islam the right way and not through a non-Muslim or through someone who has a completely negative view because it can really alter the way people perceive Muslims,” Kirja said.

To accommodate these two days off for both students and staff, the district will add two days to the end of the 2021-2022 school year, with the last day of school now scheduled for June 1.

But Superintendent Matt Degner said they might find a different way to make up those days in subsequent years.

“There might be some smarter changes we could make, but we felt it was compelling to have a calendar that addressed this need moving into the next academic year, so that’s why we’re taking this one-off cycle,” Degner said.

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