AUGUSTA — The policy committee of the Augusta Board of Education is moving forward with a proposal to incorporate the major holidays of multiple religions into the school district’s calendar, including minority faiths such as Judaism and Islam, so that educators may avoid them when scheduling school-wide activities such as field trips and class photograph days.

At the committee’s monthly meeting on Monday night, its members reviewed two similar policies that have been drafted in neighboring school districts and agreed to put together a similar proposal for the Augusta schools at its September meeting.

The committee has met multiple times with people who have been pushing the changes over the last year, and about 70 people attended the meeting. About a dozen spoke in favor of adding the holidays to the calendar.

No attendees spoke against the changes, but the three members of the policy committee, Staci Fortunato, Christopher Clarke, and Pia Holmes, all agreed they need a little more time to craft a proposal for the whole Board of Education.

“We’re saying we want to write an informed policy,” Clarke said near the end of the hour-and-a-half meeting. “… I think you can walk away from this meeting knowing that you’ve had a victory, knowing that we’re going to make a policy that’s right for the students and staff.”

Until there is a formal policy, the district’s superintendent, James Anastasio, told attendees that he can include holidays from multiple faiths into an informal list of holidays that he distributes to staff.


Supporters who spoke on Monday night included Augusta Mayor David Rollins, Augusta City Councilor Darek Grant, Fatima Halawa, a Cony High School student who has come to the U.S. from Syria, and Mary Mohammed, the mother of two girls who attend Lincoln Elementary School.

Mohammed, whose family is Muslim, said that there are only two days of the year that her daughters have to leave school to celebrate religious holidays, but that they have missed school activities in the past because they coincided with those holidays.

This past year, for example, Mohammed said that her daughters were home to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan, when the school held “step-up day,” Momhammed said during an interview before the meeting on Monday. Step-up day is an opportunity for students to meet their teachers for the next year and hear what they’ll be learning.

“It’s just a little introduction to the next class,” Mohammed said. “The kids get really excited about it. It’s like graduating almost.” Because her daughters missed it, she said, “they were going into the next school year blind, and it’s something that could have been rescheduled pretty easily.”

Supporters have said that adding the holidays to the calendar is a way to celebrate the differences of people from minority cultures. They’ve also stressed that they’re not asking for classes to be canceled for any new holidays.

Grant, the city councilor, said that between 75 and 100 students in the Augusta schools are Muslim, while between 10 and 20 are Jewish or Hindu. The area has become considerably more diverse in recent years as refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan have settled here.


Two area school districts, the Winthrop School Department and Regional School Unit 38 in the Maranacook area, have already approved policies that would place major religious holidays on their calendar. The Hallowell-based Regional School Unit 2 is preparing its own version of the changes.

On Monday night, members of the policy committee did mention several challenges of creating such a policy. They said that it could become difficult for teachers to accommodate more holidays when putting their own class calendars together.

But they liked the open-ended nature of the policy approved by RSU 38 and agreed that there was enough support from the interfaith community in Augusta to draft a policy for the whole Board of Education to consider.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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