School Committee spars on way to Muslim holiday, salary votes
The School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to include an Eid holiday for Muslim students in public schools. It would give students a day off to celebrate the holiday, as Christian or Jewish students get to observe their religious holidays and celebrations.
“Congratulations, Cambridge is in the 21st century,” said Ken Reeves, a city councillor and interim mayor and committee member, upon adoption. “Everybody made it.”
Adoption wasn’t without debate, but the conflict focused only on whether committee member Marc McGovern’s specific motion was necessary. He asked to split adoption of the holiday from a broader look at how the district decides which holidays to insert in the master calendar.
Member Patty Nolan questioned the need for McGovern’s change, saying that including a wider look at policy in the official motion would not affect students getting the next Eid holiday off.
“I think it would, it could hold it up,” McGovern said. “I fully agree we should look at the calendar, but I don’t feel we should do that on the backs of our Muslim students.”
After Nolan stressed “This was never about not supporting [the holiday]. I support it fully,” Alice Turkel — back on the committee after six years — agreed on the importance of creating an overarching policy. In her four terms, she had voted other holidays onto the school calendar and wished, in retrospect, a wider policy had been created.
Students were on hand to watch the vote. Among them was Humbi Song, a first-year student at Harvard who founded an initiative to recognize Eid before graduating from the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, the city’s public high school.
“It’s amazing for the School Committee to consider this,” Song said during public comment, especially “in a nation where bias against Muslims is so pervasive.”
Cambridge Human Rights chairwoman Marla Erlien thanked Superintendent Jeffrey Young for his interest in the matter and said inclusion such as approval of the holiday was “holding out a hand to families who have been alienated from schools.”
“I hope you’ll take it on as a broader project than just recognizing the holiday,” Erlien said.
The Eid vote followed formal acceptance of the district’s academic calendar and preceded another clash in which Nolan seemed misunderstood.
Raises for the committee’s executive secretary, Marilyn Y. Bradshaw, and confidential secretary, Patricia A. Berry, were brought forward for a vote by McGovern, and Nolan opposed the increases because “we are facing staggering budget deficits” and she considered the committee’s employees — as well as the committee members themselves — to already be “extremely well compensated, above the average.”
But she struggled to make it clear that the raises under discussion would be in addition to cost-of-living increases, and when the vote took place — 6-1, with only Nolan opposed — it was muddied by members’ distress that a personnel issue was being discussed publicly.
“I’m not sure this is all that appropriate,” Nancy Tauber said before apologizing to Bradshaw and Berry, who were present. Fred Fantini and Richard Harding agreed the discussion was “in poor taste.”
The raises had been debated in a closed-door session last year; McGovern said in bringing them up he intended a straight up-or-down vote, not more discussion.
Turkel noted three of the committee members were new and hadn’t been in the closed-door session — and echoed that late in the meeting when discussing approval of budget issues in which she hadn’t weighed in.
Harding took Turkel’s point a bit further, rejecting the notion new members of the committee would or should go along with decisions arrived at by previous committees. He also rejected the “unwritten rule” of limiting himself to two questions during presentations. “I’m going to ask questions appropriate to my constituents,” he said.