By Elizabeth Hacala
The School Committee has approved a policy on religious holidays as well as a 2017/2018 school calendar. Initial recommendations by the Religious and Cultural Holidays Task Force were reviewed during the April 25 School Committee meeting. During the May 9 meeting, the committee reviewed the final recommendations and proposed religious holiday policy.
Prior the approval of theReligious and Cultural Holidays Policy there was no official School Committee policy regarding the assignment of projects, tests, or homework on religious holidays in the Bedford Public Schools. There has been a long-standing practice of encouraging teachers to avoid tests, major projects, and homework during the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This tradition has been applied unevenly throughout the district and did not establish clear guidelines on how students would be accommodated to make up any missed work.In addition, this practice did not provide any guidance for the families of students of other religious faiths.
Bedford has attracted residents from all around the globe, and the status quo no longer met the needs of the school community. The goal of this process was not only to create a respectful and workable policy that helped the schools support all students in exercising their faith but also to highlight the wide diversity of religious and cultural backgrounds in our town. The Religious and Cultural Holidays Task Force was charged with developing recommendations that respected the variety of beliefs students’ families represent while also minimizing interruptions to learning.
The final task force recommendations included removing the restriction on normal teaching, quizzes, and homework on religious and major cultural holidays.To balance that change, the task force also recommended the creation a formal policy that exempts all student absences due to the observance of a religious/major cultural holiday and establishes clear guidelines for providing extra time to students who miss schoolwork due to a religious or major cultural holiday.
In the past, the Bedford Public Schools have closed for a half-day on Good Friday and held no classes on Christmas Eve day. The task force recommended the practice of having no school on Christmas Eve day be continued in anticipation of particularly high absenteeism among students on that day should there be classes. Finally, the task force recommended the policy be piloted for two years and then re-evaluated.
Members of the School Committee thanked the task force for their thoughtful and diligent work throughout the process of developing the recommendations. The School Committee unanimously voted to accept the Religious and Cultural Holidays Policy (full text below) as well as the 2017/2018 Bedford Public Schools calendar (link below).
Religious and Cultural Holidays Policy
Any student who is absent due to a religious or major cultural holiday observance, will, upon notification by the parent, have his or her absence excused.*
Any student who is unable, because of religious and/or cultural beliefs, to attend class shall be provided with the time (no less than one week) and the opportunity to make up missed work and/or assessments. Open and timely communication between students, families, and teachers shall ensure that the opportunity to make up work/assessments does not place an unreasonable burden upon any of the parties.
(At the high school, the term is “exempt”.)
- The 2017/2018 Bedford Public Schools Calendar
- The list of religious and major cultural holidays, as currently defined by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Background stories in The Bedford Citizen