A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Diversity and School Calendars

For most of my career teaching in suburban Long Island, there was always a yearly struggle to build the school calendar for the following school year. This entailed balancing the demands of religious constituencies for their holidays off along with the overarching needs of parents and staff for the longest possible spring, winter and February breaks. Some of the hardest feelings were generated by the slightest adjustments to the school calendar that were perceived by one group or another as an intentional slight. Over the years, superintendents of schools and boards of education have bowed to political pressures and increased the number of school holidays, attempting to assuage bad feelings but making it increasingly difficult to construct a school calendar.

In recent years, our community has grown more diverse, with an influx of Asian immigrants of varying ethnicity and religion. It’s not surprising, therefore, that they have begun to exert political pressure for the inclusion of their holidays into the school calendar. Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists have holidays which in their home countries are days of celebration free from work and school. Their rights to their holidays are no less than the majority’s. How should a secular institution respond to the growing demands for religious days off?

Most people will accept a school calendar that is objectively fair. Most, in an arrangement that is fair, will accept the loss of some holidays they currently have, holidays that their religious leaders teach can be observed without refraining from work and school. It should be possible to bring the leaders of the various groups together and negotiate an understanding that gives every constituency what they must agree is a fair number of holidays when school is closed. Possible doesn’t mean that is will be easy. It surely won’t, but the alternative to building such a consensus is much worse. People who feel themselves aggrieved don’t go away. Their grievances are magnified the more reasonable accommodations of their needs are not met. This would be an excellent time for the leaders of the majority faiths in our community to come forward and lead the way to a solution that all community members may not like but have to admit is fair.

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