When Noora Kuran was in 8th grade in Watchung Hills, New Jersey, she and her brothers couldn't attend Eid prayer because they had tests scheduled in school and were afraid that if they missed class, they would fall behind. It was at that moment that Noora decided to petition the school to allow students to have off for Eid. She emailed Watchung Hills Regional High School with her request and explanation, but the school didn't respond in her favor.
Noora and her siblings began attending Watchung Borough Board of Education meetings and speaking on behalf of their cause. From this was born the Interfaith Coalition. Each month, members of the Interfaith Coalition wrote short speeches and presented them to the school board. They also started a petition, which has amassed over 1,000 signatures to date. Still, the Board refused to grant their request. Reasons for the denial varied. Officials cited the middle schools' calendar as a reason for not adopting the day off at the high school level, then that the school was too large to implement such a change, and finally, that the results of a parent survey indicated that the Muslim student population was too small for the Board to accommodate such a request.
In response to this last measure, Noora created a survey of her own, using her teachers' assistance to ensure it was written without bias. Over 400 students completed this second survey, and over 98% of respondents agreed that Eid and Diwali should be days off. Despite such overwhelming student support, the Board of Education refused to recognize those days as holidays.
While the Interfaith Coalition continues to work toward its original goal, it has influenced other successes along the way. Noora and the Coalition have collaborated with and inspired nearby schools to change their religious holidays policies. In Warren Hills, a recent Township resolution recognized Eid ul-Fitr, Yom Kippur, and Diwali as holidays and commended the Warren Township Board of Education for including Eid and Diwali on the 2023-2024 school calendar. (Yom Kippur was already included.) The Coalition has successfully persuaded Watchung Hills to recognize Eid, Diwali, Chinese New Year, and other minority religious holidays as test-free and homework-free days, which eases the pressure on students. And in 2023, the school recognized Eid as an excused absence. Approximately 150 students took the day off for the holiday or in support of the Coalition's cause this year.
Finally, in early 2023, the Watchung Borough Board of Education announced their decision to mark Eid ul-Fitr in 2024 as an official day off for students and a professional day for teachers. Noora and the Coalition's tireless efforts have made a huge impact on Watchung Hills and other schools in the district and will continue to make a difference for students for years to come.