Religious and Cultural Holidays and Our Schools

Submitted by the Bedford School Department

The following article includes a link to a survey that all Bedford community members are invited to take.  Parents, students, faculty and staff have also been sent the link.

What policies should govern the Bedford Public Schools’ treatment of religious and cultural holidays with regard to:

  • Educating our students about a diverse range of faith based and secular beliefs?
  • Having school on certain religious holidays?
  • Conducting regular school business (homework, tests, new material) on days when some of our students are absent for religious/cultural reasons?

Religious and Cultural Holidays Task Force Recommendations

During the past several months a task force of high school students, teachers, parents, clergy and community members have deliberated over these issues in an effort to arrive at a more equitable set of practices so that none of our students will feel that his or her beliefs are disrespected or deemed unimportant.  Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, and secular Chinese beliefs were all represented by the committee’s diverse membership.

Faced with the challenge of balancing equity with the contrasting desire neither to burden students who miss school for religious observances nor to interrupt learning for students who are in attendance, a majority of the task force participants have voted to put forward the recommendations delineated below, and our next step is to solicit your thinking on these important but challenging issues:

  • Eliminate the no school half day on Good Friday
  • Retain the no school on the day of Christmas Eve, not to give preferential treatment to Christian students, but because, practically speaking, attendance by students and teachers would be so low that holding school would not be feasible.
  • Homework, new material, tests and quizzes may be given on religious and cultural holidays, but students will have extended time to make up work

This March, the School Committee will reflect upon the Task Force recommendations, the survey data and the Superintendent’s recommendation and will render a policy decision.

Present Practice

The District’s present practice includes a half day of school on Good Friday and no school on the day of Christmas Eve if it falls on a weekday.  While there is no School Committee policy governing the conduct of school business when school is in session on religious holidays, the practice at our four schools has long been to direct teachers not to give homework, quizzes or tests on or on the day following the Jewish high holidays, and to count as excused any student’s absence for the observance of a religious holiday.  This year, the district has taken deliberate steps to ensure that at least all major religious holidays and Chinese New Year are acknowledged publicly over the loudspeaker at each of our schools, and our 7th grade history classes have updated their comparative religions historical content.

Impetus for Change

Three years ago, when the District experienced a spate of anti-Semitic graffiti and learned of other anti-Semitic experiences that our students reported, the disparity between the “no school” practice for some Christian holidays but not for Jewish or other religions’ holidays was placed on the school department’s agenda.  Then a number of teachers, who observed that their students felt disrespected by the disparity between the District’s practice of having no homework, quizzes or tests on the Jewish high holidays but not on the major holidays of other religions (e.g., Muslim, Hindu or Chinese New year), also pressed us to review our practices.  Additionally, our student population has become increasingly diverse racially, religiously, linguistically and ethnically.

As community members, the Bedford Public Schools values your input.  Please click on the link below and take the survey by February 14.  Your input will help to inform a final set of recommendations to the Bedford School Committee.

Click this link to participate in the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RBHQQCZ

 


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