Missing School for Shul

It happens every fall: your family is hit with the dual responsibilities of sending your children to school and observing the High Holidays. What to do? If you keep your kids out of school, it follows that they will miss something. A test? A lab? An important and onetime lecture? Or worse. . . a band performance, athletic event or Homecoming?
These are the dilemmas the Anti-Defamation League fields each fall from families in the community. The Anti-Defamation League was established in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all.” In our increasingly pluralistic society, ADL builds bridges of communication, understanding and respect among diverse groups and provides guidance to educators on issues such as the challenges of religion in the public schools.
Generally, K-12 public schools have a greater legal obligation to accommodate students who observe the High Holidays than private schools. In either situation, parents should review and follow school policies on how to request a religious accommodation for their children. Here is what you need to know.
Plan ahead. A request for an accommodation should be made well in advance of the High Holidays. Advanced notice gives the teacher the opportunity to plan around the specific dates for important assignments, tests or events. Even with advanced notice, some conflicts may not be avoidable, as is the case with athletic events. This does not mean that the conversation should not take place.
Speak only for your family when you seek an accommodation. Religious practice and observance varies from family to family. Be clear when seeking an accommodation for your student’s absence that you speak to your own level of observance. This assists schools when they have families whose observance varies in length and other traditions.
Students must be given time to make up missed assignments or tests. The Education Code specifies that students who are absent for observance of a religious holiday must be given a reasonable period of time to make up any missed assignments, homework or tests. Extra-curricular activities are not specifically addressed by the Education Code.
Observance of religious holidays may conflict with “Perfect Attendance” recognition. Students who are absent for serious illness, religious observance or funeral attendance share the frustration that they are disqualified from the “perfect” attendance accolade. It is important to share with your children that there are many other ways to earn recognition at school and that you would be proud for them to earn those awards.
The bottom line is, no student should ever feel pressured to choose between school and religious observance. Schools that accommodate students for their religious practices create campus climates of mutual respect where all students feel welcome and valued. If you need further information or guidance on this issue, please do not hesitate to contact the ADL Orange County/Long Beach office at
(949) 679-3737.  ✿

Melissa Carr is the Anti-Defamation League Regional Director of Orange County/Long Beach and a contributing writer to Kiddish magazine.

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