Our View: Be more inclusive for all holy days – The Register-Guard

Posted: February 15, 2020 at 9:48 am

Christian students in Eugene dont attend school on Christmas and Easter, the holiest days of their religion. However, that same respect for holy days doesn't apply to other faiths.

The Eugene School Board finally is grappling with that inadvertent but blatant discrimination. We cannot expect schools to close on every religions holy days, but students should not be penalized for missing school in observance of those days.

Schools sometimes misinterpret the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion. The First Amendment does not stop schools from dealing with religion. Rather, it requires neutrality. Schools and government must neither promote nor inhibit any religious belief or nonbelief.

Eugene school officials say the district recognizes seven religious holidays: Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and last days of Passover and Eid (the last day of Ramadan).

Reflecting the traditions that have built up, Christmas and Easter Sunday never are school days. The Eugene School District, like many others, has not ensured that other religious holidays are taken into account when planning the school year. Many students have had to choose between attending school on those days often because of scheduled tests, field trips or other activities or prioritizing religious observances and thus missing those school events.

Consider what its like for a student or family to be placed in that position. For Johanna Seasonweins twin daughters in kindergarten, that meant not going on a field trip. "That was the first time I ever heard my kid say, Its not fair that were Jewish, and that really hurt," Seasonwein recounted.

Eugene prides itself on being an inclusive community, yet it has tacitly enabled such pain.

No more. The Eugene School Board should adopt strong policies and follow through. It is not enough to simply remind teachers, administrators and others not to schedule tests, assemblies, field trips, meetings or other major school activities on major holy days. The district must build a culture in which the full education system understands the family importance of religious holidays and does not put parents in a bind. Administrators must ensure such conflicts do not happen, and, if they do, that students are given adequate opportunity to make up work, tests or assignments.

The push for change primarily has come from Jewish parents. But the issue affects families of many faiths, including Islam. It is wrong to make students choose between honoring their religion or participating in a school activity. As children grow older, this dilemma becomes more palpable when test scores and participation in activities, such as marching band, become more demanding and have greater influence on a child's academic career.

No one should have to make those choices. No parent should hear their child say school makes me wish I werent Jewish or Muslim.

This is basic respect for our diverse community. Make it easy, just as the district does for major, federally recognized Christian holidays, for children to follow their faith and be fully included in school. Religion and education dont have to be at odds.

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Our View: Be more inclusive for all holy days - The Register-Guard

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