But What About Absences? Closings?

As for absences for religious holidays, it is suggested by the group of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious societies (as mentioned in “Religion and Religious Holidays in the Public Schools“) that students should be allowed a “reasonable number of excused absences, without penalties, to observe religious holidays within their traditions.”[1] They will, of course, consequently be responsible for any assignments they missed due to not being in school.

Austin Cline, a former Regional Director for the Council for Secular Humanism, and current About.com guide, further discusses this in his article “School Closings – Can Public Schools Close for Religious Holidays?”  He states that if there are “enough followers of a particular religion in a community…there will be a high degree of absenteeism in the schools.”[2] He is validating the school boards of such districts to close the school for that holiday, and feeding the popular explanation – the population argument – for school closings: if a significant number of students is absent, the school might as well be closed.

As for teachers, their absences for religious holidays are legally protected by one of the most landmark pieces of legislation in United States history – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   Below is an analysis from the Freedom Forum publication:

“A slightly different rule applies to teachers who wish to be absent to observe religious holidays. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires school boards to make “reasonable accommodation” of their employees’ religious needs. School boards may offer any accommodation that is reasonable, however, and are not required to accept the accommodation proposed by the employee. Moreover, schools are not required to accommodate an employee’s religious needs if doing so would cause “undue hardship” on the employer, such as disturbing the board’s collective-bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union or imposing more than de minimis costs on the employer. “

Like their students, teachers are entitled to make requests for absences for religious holidays. However, their absences are ultimately dependent upon what their respective school boards deem reasonable as an accommodation in such cases – especially when it may affect the employer, or the school board itself.

So how do the school boards of some states determine their “no-school” days, and how does this affect New York City?  New York City is often referred to as the melting pot of the United States, as a result of the many religious groups that are present in our city alone.  Together we make a single city whole, and have developed it into the international center for culture that it is today.  It would only make sense that our city’s policies toward religious holidays are more tolerant of a greater number of religions than those of other states…so are they?

I consequently felt that it was most important to discuss the issue from the viewpoint of two recently controversial religious groups of New York City, particularly in regard to this issue: the Jewish and Muslims.

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