IC elementary students want Muslim holidays added to district calendar

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Some elementary students in Iowa City are asking the school board to consider adding two Muslim holidays to the school calendar.

KCRG asked the students what inspired them to start the petition. While sixth grader Rayan Saeid wrote during her winter break, she wanted to know why major Muslim holidays weren't included in the Iowa City school district's calendar. She pointed out that her holidays are similar to Thanksgiving and Christmas, which students have off. Her parents encouraged her to send a letter to the school board.

"It was really overwhelming and I was really nervous but I was really excited also," said Saeid.

She and fellow student Reem Kirja made their case at a school board meeting this week. Their principal at Weber Elementary said she was impressed with their proposal.

"I was just extremely proud of them because to have them advocate for themselves is huge. That's one of the things that we want our kids to be able to do," said Yaa Appiah-McNulty, the principal of Weber Elementary.

"If we're looking at this, we have to make sure that we're sensitive to everyone that way and we're fair to all," said Phil Hemingway with the Iowa City School Board.

The two holidays mark the end of Ramadan and the Feast of Sacrifice. They follow the Islamic calendar so they don't always fall during the school year. When they do, many Muslim students stay home.

"We don't go to school so it counts as an absence on our attendance record," said Saeid.

If more holidays are added, would the district consider the possibility of a year round school year?

"It's a discussion we'll have and we'll see what's best for our community and our students," said Hemingway.

Rayan said it would be worth it.

"It's part of my religion and I've grown up my whole life celebrating it," said she said.

"Our religion is so important to us," said Kirja.

The Iowa City School Board has approved the school calendars for the next two years, but members will discuss the Muslim holiday proposal at a work session in the next month or two.