Monday, July 24, 2006

Holier than Thou

I've been advocating that Connecticut schools be allowed to use blogging technology for some time now. My basic thesis is that teachers can blog the daily assignments for students [on some periodic basis] giving students and parents an exact idea of what the students are responsible for. And maybe class notes as well.

The very nice by-product of this is that students who are sick can keep up online.

But the second by-product is that when schools close for snow days or whatever reason, students and teachers can attend a school day virtually.

The only make-up days that need to be made up are days where there's no internet connection available.

But the real point I'm coming to is this, Yahoo just ran an article on the difficulty of scheduling. Parents, teachers, and everyone else want some certainty about vacation time and so on. Moving toward virtual makeup days make more personal choice possible.

Here's a sample of School schedules try to respect all faiths By Cara Anna, Associated Press Writer
It can get complicated. When Muslims in the Tampa Bay region of Florida asked for a day off to celebrate the end of Ramadan, another local religious group perked up.

"There was discussion in the Hindu community if we should also push for a holiday," said Nikhil Joshi, a board member of the national Hindu American Foundation.

The Hillsborough County school board responded by ending days off for all religious holidays. The move inspired more than 3,500 e-mails. Christian leaders pleaded for the Muslim holiday. Finally, the district restored this fall's original calendar, with days off for Good Friday, Easter Monday and the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.

The Muslim community was relieved it hadn't hurt other faiths. The Hindu community decided not to ask for days off.

"You would hope in a country of religious freedom all would be recognized, but we know that's not practical," Joshi said.

School districts say they can't take days off for purely religious reasons, but they can act if they think operations are affected by students or staff taking the day off.

That practice gives school holidays a certain regional flair. Some schools close for the beginning of hunting season. San Francisco schools have Cesar Chavez Day on March 30 to celebrate farmworkers, and Chicago schools have March 5 to honor Casimir Pulaski, a Polish count who helped the American side in the Revolutionary War.

Religion is more sensitive. Some districts mark "special observance days" when no test or exam can be scheduled. Other districts find inspiration in the business world — each student gets a number of "floating" days to celebrate his or her own holidays with an excused absence.

"'Choose your own holiday' has become more popular," said Kathryn Lohre, assistant director of Harvard University's Pluralism Project, which studies diversity in religion. "It takes pressure off the school boards."

New Jersey's board of education now lists 76 excused religious holidays, from Russian Orthodox to Sikh. New York City schools are even more flexible. Students with a letter from parents get an excused absence for a holiday in any religion.

Some have tried the traditional route of schoolwide holidays, and failed. In Ohio, the Sycamore Community School District once canceled classes on the Jewish High Holy Days after some parents asked why schools closed on Good Friday. Muslim and Hindu parents then asked why they didn't get days off. The
American Civil Liberties Union sued the district.

The case was settled in 2000, and the High Holy Days became school days again.

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