Public school students have a number of rights when it comes to their religious beliefs, including freedom of expression, discussion and exercise. However, these liberties do not address the academic hindrances that often come with the time and dedication necessary for religious practice.
Prioritization of Christian holidays forces those who practice other religions to miss school. Although missing class to participate in religious events and traditions falls under “excused absences,” this reassuring categorization is misleading.
According to the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education, “Students who miss school work because of an excused absence shall be given the opportunity to complete all assignments and tests.” This often means being bombarded with makeup classwork, homework, exams and hours of lesson material upon return.
We believe that religious commitments should not entail academic burden. For many students, religion gives them character, community and purpose — and it should not disadvantage them in school.
The best way to address this issue is to better organize school holidays and significant events to accommodate more religions. By planning around major religious holidays such as Yom Kippur, Passover, Ramadan and Eid al-Adha, schools can convey to their students that their religious traditions matter and minimize the number of students who will miss class.
For many students, religion gives them character, community and purpose — and it should not disadvantage them in school.
Increasing the number of flex days, or days consisting of three flex periods in which students can meet with teachers individually or catch up on work on their own, is also a potential solution. Since no lesson material will be taught, no exams administered and no homework or classwork given, religious students will not miss any schoolwork when attending religious events or celebrating important traditions.
Currently, flex days are reserved for standardized testing only. We recommend the Palo Alto High School Innovative Schedule Committee, which is responsible for our daily bell schedules, implement more flex days throughout the year around major religious holidays.
For more permanent change, however, we advise Palo Alto students to voice their concerns at the biweekly PAUSD board meetings, which take place in the PAUSD office building at 25 Embarcadero Road, on the same block as Palo Alto High School. Open sessions are held from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m., and exact dates can be found on the PAUSD website.
The PAUSD Calendar Committee meets in the fall every three years to decide on a three year, district-wide schedule, with the next cycle set to start in 2022. Committee members propose additional schedule adjustments throughout the year, as well.
In the quest to create equal academic opportunity for all students, we urge the PAUSD Calendar Committee to consider all religious communities by planning around a broader range of major religious holidays.