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Should New Jersey School Districts Close Public Schools for Religious Holidays? [POLL]

Flikr user Max Wolfe
Flikr user Max Wolfe

Cultural and religious diversity has led us to this crossroads.

A good many districts in New Jersey feel the need to close their schools in places populated by a majority of followers of a given religion.

For instance, followers of the Hindu holiday of Diwali put pressure on their respective school boards to close schools in those districts so that their children could better appreciate their culture.

Such is the case where, according to this, Assemblyman Upendra J. Chivukula (D-Somerset) is calling for the first day of Diwali to be a school holiday in districts with a high percentage of Indian Americans. The same goes for devout Muslims who observe Ramadan. And on and on.

Chivukula said:

“Closing schools with high Indian-American populations on the first day of Diwali, would honor an important tradition of a growing segment of our state’s population, and would provide all Indian-American children with the opportunity to celebrate this wonderful festival with their family and friends,” Chivukula said.

However, in practice, you’re left with a mish mash of different holidays in different districts.

That’s all well and good if the majority in any given district is satisfied; but since we’re one of the most religiously diverse states in the country…not everyone in any given district gets what they want.

Recently the Hunterdon Central district decided to keep school open on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish High Holy Day despite changes at nearby sending districts which have decided to close for the holiday.

According to this:

School officials in the Flemington-Raritan and Readington districts revised the calendars after parents and Jewish community leaders put pressure on the boards to close on Sept. 17 in observance of Rosh Hashana, but Hunterdon Central has no plans to do the same.

“The board did discuss it and is sensitive to religious needs, but felt that the calendar for this year is set,” Superintendent Christina Steffner said when reached by phone on Wednesday. “In future years, we will look at those holidays that people bring to our attention much more closely.”

Each year the state Department of Education releases a new list of religious holidays for which students may have an excused absence. The list this year has more than 120 holidays and 11 in September alone, she said.

Students who take off for a religious holiday are excused and are given an opportunity to make up the work they missed, she said.
Steffner said the school takes into consideration days when a large number of staff members or students would be gone.

Here’s what I’d like to know.

Given that there are some many different religious holidays throughout the year and only so many school days, why not just give those students who choose to stay home on their religious holidays an excused absence and be done with it…as is the case now in many districts?

That is, maintain a consistent calendar of days that school will be in sessions…except for snow days.

As it is, according to this, it’s going to be nearly impossible to make up the days missed because of Hurricane Sandy without pissing off a number of people who might be counting on, say, spring break.

Is it possible to make everyone happy…no?

But if you can think of a better solution, let us know!

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