School Time Off May Go Secular

Melanie Ave, St. Petersburg Times, Oct. 13

TAMPA—The Hillsborough School Board appeared to endorse a school calendar Wednesday that takes away student vacation days for religious holidays, despite concerns from one member that the action “waters down our values.”

All but one of the six board members at a workshop said they support the proposed 2006-07 calendar, which substitutes three secular vacation days for three Christian and Jewish holidays.

The calendar changes were recommended after a Muslim group last year asked that a Muslim holiday be added. The only religious holiday still remaining in the proposed calendar is Christmas, which occurs during the district’s winter break.

Board members will take public comment before voting on the changes at their Oct. 25 meeting. If approved, next year’s calendar will eliminate vacation days coinciding with Yom Kippur, Good Friday and the Monday after Easter. The days will be replaced with time off on Presidents Day and two days between spring break and the last day of school, which will give students and teachers a four-day weekend.

The calendar would be similar to the one used in Pinellas County, which does not time vacation days with religious holidays.

A different calendar, which would give students a day off for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr instead of the Monday after Easter, also will be presented at the public hearing.

That is the one favored by board member Jennifer Faliero, who told her colleagues the more secular version “waters down our values” by suppressing religious expression.

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Several Muslims in the audience said they fear the board’s action could prompt some people to retaliate against followers of Islam. They worry Muslims will be blamed for taking away everyone’s holidays.

“This is not what we asked for,” said Ahmed Bedier, Florida director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “We were simply asking for equal representation.”

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