Schools Struggle to Accommodate Myriad Religious Holidays

July 29, 2006

Source: The Free Lance-Star

Wire Service: AP


On July 29, 2006 The Free Lance-Star reported, "Growing religious diversity has public schools around the country re-examining how they accommodate the holy days of different faiths. The Virginia Department of Education allows each locality to determine its own academic calendar, said Julie Grimes, a department spokeswoman in Richmond. 'I'd like to think local school officials would take into consideration the population of their community and consider that there would be students not in school because of specific holidays,' Grimes said. The Virginia Board of Education's guidelines on religious activities in public schools encourage school officials to do just that. 'Whenever feasible, schools should strive to avoid scheduling exams and special events on days when it is foreseeable that some students will be absent to celebrate religious holidays,' the policy states. 'Similarly, if a school gives awards for perfect attendance, it should not withhold such recognition from students whose only absence is necessitated by holidays where observance is prescribed by the student's faith.' The Fredericksburg school system considers input from its four schools when creating its academic calendar, Superintendent Dale Sander said. 'Each school makes an ideal calendar knowing what they know about their kids,' Sander said. The superintendent's office then drafts a single calendar based on those requests and submits it to the city School Board for approval, he said. The state requires that the school year begin after Labor Day, unless the local school board receives a waiver from the state Board of Education. For religious observances that fall on regular school days, parents and staff can make special arrangements with teachers in advance, Sander said."