Another Unnecessary School Holiday

For the first time in Glendale Unified School District’s history, April 24th is no longer a school day.

Previously, school remained open on the day Armenians commemorate the genocide of 1.5 million who were killed by the Ottoman Empire in Turkey.

Finally, GUSD has acknowledged the obvious that with such a large Armenian population in the city, teachers teaching to half-empty classrooms no longer made sense.

Berdj Karapetian, Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America’s Glendale Chapter, said he is “pleased” that Glendale schools will be closed considering one-third of its students are of Armenian descent.

I must admit that many of my colleagues enjoyed working that day in the past if for no other reason than to have class sizes between 15 and 20 instead of the typical 35 to 40.   However, little education occurred to those who showed up, including a handful of dedicated Armenian students.

It makes sense for a school district to take into consideration its student population when determining non-instructional days.  

The tricky part for districts, however, is ensuring that the closing of schools is more culturally based rather than religiously oriented.

The Muslim community in New York City has for years been asking the school district to close on two days important to them, one for the end of Ramadan and one for the Festival of Sacrifice.

While a few cities in America such as Dearborn, Michigan have honored such a request, schools need to be mindful of the separation of church and state. Still, school districts with significant Jewish populations have for years shut down campuses on high holy days which are religious in nature.

While I don’t necessarily oppose such action, it does make one wonder how a system reconciles scheduling religious holidays on a public school calendar with downplaying the use of Christmas music and decorations in December, going so far as rebranding Christmas vacation as Winter Break.

Students should be encouraged by their parents to celebrate and commemorate important dates in their respective religion and culture.   But that doesn’t mean that schools have a legal duty to have non-instructional days that will accommodate every possible ethnic or religious group.

The argument that students are penalized if they don’t attend school on meaningful days in their community is specious. Section 48205 of the California Educational Code clearly states that if a student misses school “due to observance of a holiday or ceremony of his or her religion” he shall be “allowed to complete all assignments and tests missed during the absence . . .[and] be given full credit.”

Having no school in Glendale on April 24 makes sense.   If the city’s demographics change in the future, other non-instructional days may have to be considered. However, at some point, there won’t be any days to consider.

At a time when every minute counts in teaching to kids, and America is the country with fewer school days compared to other like nations, school districts have to be careful when determining when to close school.

Think about this for a moment.   How can a country that banned school prayer over a half a century ago be the same land that allows religious holidays on a public school calendar? Only in America.

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