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W. Queens parents seek Muslim school holidays

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He said he thinks his children should be given Muslim holidays, just as Jewish and Christian children are given holidays."When I speak with Jewish and Christian parents, they all say 'you are right,'" there should be Muslim holidays, he said.Khan was one of about two dozen Queens residents and activists seeking changes in public school education who met in Corona Saturday and selected Muslim holidays, nutrition and curriculum as important local themes to bring to a larger meeting planned for July focusing on education in Region 4, which covers western Queens.They met only two weeks after the city's Department of Education announced record increases in the city's 2005 English Language Arts and math tests. The total number of students meeting or surpassing city standards in these grades rose 14.4 percent in English and 7.5 percent in math over last year's results, according to the department.The two-year-old Queens Committee selected the topics for the July gathering during its regularly scheduled meeting held at the Dominican-American Society, at 40-27 97th St. in Corona.The Queens Committee is the borough's arm of the New York Civic Participation Project, a coalition of unions and community groups focused on immigration issues. Representatives from community groups Make the Road by Walking, ACORN, Latin American Integration Center, Institute for Education and Social Policy and New York Civic Participation Project will attend the July meeting to discuss local education issues.The coordinator for the Queens Committee, NYCPP organizer and Elmhurst resident Zahida Pirani, said the issue of religious holidays resonates with parents.She called Jackson Heights and Corona one of the most "diverse areas in the world and that is why you hear about issues of religious holidays."The New York City public schools were closed this school year for three explicitly religious holidays: two days for Rosh Hashanah and one day for Good Friday. The schools are also closed for winter break during Christmas. There are no closures for Muslim holidays.PS 19 Principal Genie Calibar said Monday that a student absent on a Muslim holiday would be treated the same as any student taking an excused absence for an additional religious day."They are absent, but excused," she said.The topic of nutrition caused some debate among the activists. Some, including Pirani, thought the quality of school food remained low, but Gloria Sepulveda, a school nutritionist at the meeting from Newtown High School in Elmhurst, thought the food was improving.Attendees at the Saturday meeting also criticized the Region 4school curriculum, saying that ESL classes were shrinking and a math program called Every Day Math was failing.Caliber said that in her school, the number of English language learners was actually increasing, topping 900 in the last year. In 2002 her school had 774 ELL students.She added that she was not receiving complaints about the Every Day Math program."The [rising] math scores speak for themselves," she said.The Queens Committee also discussed holding a community forum, which was tentatively planned for 2 p.m. Saturday, July 23 at the Renaissance School at 33-55 81st St. in Jackson Heights.Meeting attendee Marcelino Rodriguez of Elmhurst said he hoped parents would come to the forum "because the majority of the parents don't have the slightest idea what is going on inside the schools." Reach reporter Adam Pincus by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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