We apologize for the long delay in updating our blog.
On Tuesday evening, April 25, I presented the findings of the Religious and Cultural Holidays Task Force, the product of nearly a year of deliberations involving an interfaith committee of students, teachers, parents, community members and clergy. On May 7, the school committee will hold a second meeting to consider and vote upon the policy and procedural recommendations of the task force.
As you will see from the school committee presentation linked below, our challenge was to address the following concerns related to how to the Bedford schools presently address religious holidays. With no formal policy regarding, or consistent practice for dealing with, religious observance-related absences, homework and tests, and no clear standard for determining on which days there should be no school, these concerns have included:
- Too much interrupted learning
- Lack of clarity for students and families and inconsistent practice regarding homework and tests on high holidays,
- Inequitable treatment of different faith and cultural practices, and
- Insufficient student awareness of diverse beliefs and traditions
Presently, the schools have no school on Christmas Eve day and a half-day for students on Good Friday. There has been an unwritten practice of having no homework or tests on the Jewish high holidays. There has typically been little to no acknowledgement of the other faiths' observances, and little education other than a history of world religions social studies unit in middle school.
In the context of the increasing diversity of our student body, the task force was charge with recommending a set of clear policy guidelines that promote:
- Respectful acknowledgment of different faiths/beliefs
- Opportunities for students to learn about and respect each other’s different beliefs and traditions
- Equitable treatment of students whose families hold different beliefs
While minimizing interruption to learning
To those ends, the recommendations include:
- Minimize disruption of learning by:
- having no school only on Christmas Eve day when the high rate of student and teacher absence would preclude academic progress
- Allowing for normal teaching and learning on all religious and cultural* holidays, including new material, tests, quizzes and homework
- Have a policy that:
- Excuses all absences due to observance of religious or cultural* holidays upon parent request
- Provides for extra time for observant students to make up missed work or tests and the expectation that teachers will work with students to do so in a manner that minimizes the burden
- Includes major religious holidays and cultural* holidays as designated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on the school calendar
- Provide professional development that:
- Orients teachers’ awareness of the new policy and school calendar so they can anticipate student absences and plan, whenever feasible, not to give tests or major projects.
- facilitates increased faculty awareness, sensitivity and readiness to support students who miss work due to these observances.
- Ensure the promotion of awareness of diversity of beliefs through morning announcements of impending holidays (whether week day or week end)
- Pilot for two years and review
Please see presentation for specific policy recommendations and survey results.