Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Three Star Holiday: Ann Arbor Guidelines

"The three star holiday," someone wrote me. "Is that really a thing?"

Why yes, yes it is. At least in Ann Arbor.

In Ann Arbor, many years ago (and when I say "many years ago" what I really mean is, "before I had kids in the schools"--I don't really know when this was devised)--the school district came up with the idea of identifying religious holidays (even some obscure ones--or they might be obscure to you--as one, two, or three star holidays). The three star holidays are a combination of most important/most popularly observed for various religions.

Overall, I think the policy is well-written and designed. Where the district has fallen short (or rather some teachers/principals/coaches have fallen short) is in not following the policy.

Which is why, if you have children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and especially if you are a member of a minority religion/culture (Muslim, Jewish, Hindi, Greek Orthodox, etc.) I highly recommend that you read the policy. Knowledge is power! Then if there is a problem, you know how to complain advocate. . .

Read the policy here, but below I'm going to paste in the policy for three-star holidays in particular.

Real Life Experience

The Jewish calendar is a combined lunar/solar calendar, which means that there are leap months every two-three years that reset the calendar (so that a fall holiday stays as a fall holiday and doesn't move into a different season). And so Jews are often saying that "the holidays" are early or late. In the fall there are a series of important Jewish holidays--essentially, a month full of holy days.

In Jewish parlance, this year the holidays are "early." In fact, they are very early. They are so early that for the first time since Thanksgiving has existed, the first day of Chanukah is on Thanksgiving! (Yes, by the time Christmas comes we Jews will be done with all that candle lighting, gift-giving and potato-pancake-eating.)

Anyway, I've set this to post on Wednesday, the eve of the Jewish New Year (Rosh HaShanah), and the start of the "High Holy Days" season. For the next two days we'll be celebrating the new year with family, friends, and services. My son will not be in school, even though we will only be on the third and fourth day of the school year. When the three-star holiday policy works, it works very well. When it isn't followed, I can say from personal experience that it is extremely stressful.* (*=Story below the 3-star policy.)

Here is an excerpt from the policy:

RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS GUIDELINESI. Holiday observances of major significance to a religious group are indicated on the calendar by three stars (***). The following apply:
School district employees may not schedule any of the following during these (three star) holidays.
   1. Major exams   2. Reviews for major exams   3. Standardized tests   4. Tryouts; for example, teams, plays   5. One-time or major events (proms, graduation ceremonies, homecoming, elections, test simulations, etc.)   6. School district employees shall schedule interscholastic athletic games in a manner that minimizes conflict with holidays designated as three star. Scheduling of an athletic event on a three star holiday must be reviewed by the Superintendent or designee. Board members will be notified well in advance when there is a conflict.   7. Interscholastic athletic practices are allowed
School district employees may arrange for students to participate in one-time or major events on three star holidays if the scheduling of these events is not controlled by our employees. Scheduling of such events must be approved by the building principal and the Superintendent or designee.
Teachers should be sensitive to the scheduling of quizzes longer than ten minutes on holidays designated by three stars (***).
Students will probably be with their families or at a place of worship in observance of these holidays. They will not be in school and/or not have time available to do the required homework. Absence to observe these holidays should be excused, and make-up privileges should be the same as the make-up privileges offered to a student who has an excused absence due to illness.

*Probably the area in which I have seen the most problems is athletics. Take, for example, the year that my son was playing Pioneer baseball, and a game was scheduled for the night of the first seder of Passover. (Jewish holidays start the evening before the day.) The game was not some outside competition. The game was not some league championship. The game was scheduled between Pioneer and Huron--clearly within the district's control, and violating point #6 above. My son (the only Jewish kid on the team) did not want me to rock the boat. He said, "I will just miss it, don't say anything." Apparently, at the last minute, a parent on the Huron team complained. As a result, the freshman game was cancelled--but not the JV/Varsity games. [This was before Skyline existed, and there was a freshman team.]

By far, the most common complaints I have heard about are athletic in nature. Coaches and Athletic Directors--put those religious holidays on your calendar and schedule around them! The second most common complaint? Science labs being scheduled, and then teachers being resistant to letting kids make them up. Reminder: the absence is to be treated in the same way as if a student was out for an illness.

Last year, the NWEA MAP test was given on Yom Kippur. Pat Green tried to argue that it wasn't a standardized test. (See #3 above.) Yes, it is a standardized test. Even if you think it isn't a standardized test, it certainly takes more than 10 minutes to give ! (See the additional guidance above.) My son ended up being pulled out of another class to take this completely unnecessary standardized test. Had I known about that in advance, I would have made a big stink. I didn't know about it in advance, so I couldn't. (This year, Yom Kippur is on a Saturday, but I hope Jeanice Swift will be more sensitive to holiday issues.)

** Another confusing piece of the holiday has to do with which holidays are two-star and three-star. There are Jewish holidays that get counted as "two star" even though according to Jewish law they should be treated exactly the same as some of the "three star" holidays. The reason, per the policy? "A balance between the formal religious standard and the actual contemporary observance of the holiday has been the intended aim of these recommendations." In reality, many fewer people observe these "two-star" holidays to the full extent of (Jewish) law. However, if you are one of those people, know that the two-star policy should protect your student: "Make-up privileges should be the same as those offered for an absence due to illness."

And although my examples of this have all been about Jewish observance, note that the guidelines are the same for the three-star Eid Al-Adha (this year, mid-October) and the three-star Epiphany (the first week in January, right when school starts back up). For those of you who are from other religions, think of these holidays as just as important as Christmas is in the main Christian calendar.

And in my opinion, if you (as a parent) feel that a holiday is important for you, then you should definitely keep your child out of school and let the school know why. The schools are trying to accommodate us, and when we let them know that we are observing a holiday, we give them a reason to continue to try to do so.

And with that, I will wish you a 

Happy and Healthy (Jewish) New Year and a 

Happy and Healthy New School Year! 

1 comment:

  1. Very helpful reminder and attention to this issue. Just last night I discovered such a conflict in our school calendar (causing me to look up the policy) and brought it to the principal's attention.