Absenteeism creates days off school, not holidays

Starting next year, rather than stating the name of a religious holiday, the Montgomery County, Maryland school district calendar will read “no school.” Students will still have the same days off—the only thing missing will be the names.

The school district voted to remove holiday names from the school’s calendar in November when members of the county’s Board of Education decided that public schools should not close for religious reasons but rather for secular ones. The district said that the decision to not hold school is made due to the high rates of absenteeism usually associated with holidays.

Referencing the 1999 U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision (Koenick vs. Felton), which involved Montgomery County Public Schools, as well as a decision by the 2005 Maryland State Board of Education, ADC Baltimore v. Baltimore County Board of Education, the Montgomery County school district maintained that its schools—under federal and state law—cannot close for religious reasons.

For some in the community, this decision was not exactly met with open arms. The area’s Muslim population claimed that rather than give Muslim students a day off for one of their religion’s major holidays, Eid al-Adha, the district voted to remove the names of holidays all-together.

Statesman agrees that when it comes to religious holidays, only days with high rates of absences should be given off. These rates vary by school; for example, Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that are given off at Stevenson—a school with a large Jewish population—are not given off at other schools with a smaller Jewish demographic. Statesman believes that this kind of delegation is fair. It makes sense that a day resulting in the absences of many teachers, students and staff would be given off—if not, the school would be unable to perform its necessary and daily functions.

Statesman points out that a school’s basic and most important job is to ensure that its students receive an education, and therefore cannot afford to give days off for every religious holiday.

Rather, Statesman is confident that the necessary exceptions and accommodations exist for those students who do miss school for holidays less practiced in their district. Most teachers are understanding and respectful of a student’s religious obligations and will readily give them homework extensions and test make-up dates. Furthermore, students who are absent for religious reasons not recognized by the calendar are almost always given excused absences and therefore not significantly penalized for missing school.

That said, what concerns Statesman most is not the method in which certain religious days are given off, but that the Montgomery County school district‘s decision to remove the names of the holidays may limit the student body’s understanding of their peers’ cultures.

Statesman strongly feels that the presence of religious occasions on the school calendar celebrates that school’s diversity since most schools are comprised of varying religious and cultural groups. Statesman points out that providing the student body with a clear and definite reason as to why a certain day is given off allows them to better understand their peers.

Yes, Statesman finds value in only taking off for days with high rates of absenteeism, but Statesman has yet to see how one school district’s removal of the names entirely will benefit the student body at hand. Statesman feels that acknowledging a religious day’s given name is a form of respect—and Statesman believes that recognized holidays deserve at least that much.

Statesman’s View: Statesman believes that public schools should remain secular but taking formal holiday names off the calendar  eliminates diversity.