Schools Scrap Religious Holidays

TAMPA – — After weeks of delay and debate, the Hillsborough County School Board approved a 2006-07 calendar minus holidays for Yom Kippur, Good Friday or the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Fitr.

The 6-1 vote represents a major shift from scheduling days off on religious holidays, a practice School Board Attorney Tom Gonzalez on Tuesday said was wrong.

“A school board cannot recognize a religious holiday for the sole purpose of recognizing a religious holiday,” Gonzalez said at a meeting packed with dozens of members of the Muslim community, some pleading to have no school on holidays for all religions.

So many people celebrate Christmas that businesses can’t operate on that day, Gonzalez said. If large numbers of students and teachers are absent on other religious holidays, the district may opt to again make those days off, he said.

Only board member Jennifer Faliero voted against the new calendar, saying she checked with other lawyers and believes Good Friday is a secular holiday: “It is now about the Easter Bunny. … They have taken religion out of it completely.”

Ahmed Bedier, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was among those not pleased with the vote. His plea in December for a day off in observance of Eid Al-Fitr, a holy day marking the end of Ramadan, led the board to reconsider its 2006-07 calendar.

When the board leaned instead toward giving students three secular holidays in exchange for eliminating Christian and Jewish holidays as days off, Beadier said he feared a backlash. In a news conference Tuesday, Bedier called the change “just an excuse to hide bias against the Muslims.”

Bishop Chuck Leigh, president of the Florida Council of Churches, backed him, saying, “I think it’s really petty on the part of the school board. … Instead of giving them one holiday, they decided they’re not going to give anybody anything.”

The policy of excusing students with no penalty on their religious holidays will continue, board members stressed.

The board also named four new schools slated to open in August 2006. A Ruskin high school will be named for Earl J. Lennard, who retired June 30 after nine years as Hillsborough superintendent. A New Tampa middle school will honor Nancy Bartels, a supervisor in guidance services who died in May. A south Hillsborough elementary school will be named for the late teacher Inez Doby, and a south Brandon elementary will be named for a subdivision, Summerfield Crossing.

In other action, the board:

• Appointed Dallas D. Cooper, a systems and procedures analyst with information services assigned to the Lawson project, to a new position of general manager of business process innovation and improvement to work on Lawson countywide.

• OK’d a new charter school for 2007-08, the Walton Academy for the Performing Arts Middle School, and denied five applicants for 2006-07.

•Approved a resolution supporting the county’s comprehensive plan regarding land use and agreed to provide the county with clear and substantial evidence of available school capacity.


The Hillsborough County School Board approved these key dates for 2006-07:

• First day of school — Aug. 3

• Labor Day holiday — Sept. 4

• Nonstudent, nonteacher day — Oct. 13

• Thanksgiving holidays — Nov. 22-24

• Winter holidays– Dec. 18-Jan. 1

• Nonstudent day; teacher work day — Jan. 2

• Martin Luther King Jr. Day — Jan. 15

• Student Day at the Fair — Feb. 9 (March 5 in East Hillsborough)

• Presidents Day — Feb. 19

• Spring holidays — March 19-23

• Nonstudent, nonteacher days — April 27 and 30

• Last day of school — May 24

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Tampa Tribune, USA
Oct. 26, 2005
Marilyn Brown

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday October 27, 2005.
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