Friday, February 4, 2011

The Festival Days and School

Public Schools

So you decide you want to keep the Feast of Tabernacles and/or the Feast of Unleavens and realize your kids will have to miss school.  You haven't the slightest idea how to go about getting them out of school without it being held against them.

First of all, I grew up in Texas so I can only answer to the state laws as they applied to Texas schools.  It is your first goal to read up on the state/national laws related to attending public school and religious observances (recommend searching Google with "school-absence religious-holiday" along with the state or country you are seeking).

It is most common in the United States for the following to be true:

  • The school (and instructors) must be notified in the first couple of weeks of the beginning of the semester or school year which days your children must be excused from school for religious observances.
  • The instructors must provide the material to be covered during the child's absence in advance (unless it will be made up afterwards such as in the case of quizzes or tests).
  • Material to be made up after the religious observance must be done so within a few weeks of the absence (and the instructor must make every effort to provide reasonable opportunities to make up the material).
  • The instructors may NOT discriminate against the student for their absence.
Usually, your congregation's leader can provide a form identifying (and somewhat authenticating) the religious observances that can be turned into the school and instructors.  If you do not have a local congregation, I am certain a group you are affiliated with (such as receiving their services on DVD or tape on a regular basis) could provide you with the document.

While I may point out what the instructors must do, in my experience of keeping the Feast through my entire school education, there is usually one teacher who is not happy about having to make the extra effort.  One in particular took umbrage at my absence and actually declared I had to make up more than the students had actually done in my absence (nevermind that the band went on a ski trip just before winter break and didn't have to make up anything).  She succeeded in flunking me that semester in spite of the rules stated above (they're more sensitive about this now with more muslim students in their classrooms as well).

College/University

In many ways, the rules are very much the same in college, especially when so many take government grants and monies so that they must abide by the government's rules.  So the only difference here is that you do have more flexibility in when you take some classes.  If it turns out you spend one semester under an instructor who was as belligerent as the one I mentioned above, you might want to not take another class under that instructor if it is in the Fall when you have to miss the most time.

Private Schools

Here is where it gets a little more blurry.  If the institution does not accept government funds (and they usually don't), they do not have to abide by many of these laws.  Thus, if you find yourself in a Catholic school or a Baptist Seminary, your choice to attend the Feast of Tabernacles or Unleavens to be met with a brick wall and very little sympathy.  I don't have much advice on what to do there other than do your best while staying at the institution or switch to one that will permit the absences.

PSAT/SAT

One last item which is usually more directly affected by the Sabbath, but does deal with education is the taking of the SAT.  Almost all students are expected to take the PSAT and SAT on a Saturday (and, no, I don't think it has to do with SAT being the first three letters of Saturday, heh).

The benefit here is that there are Jewish students who won't take it on the Sabbath.  This works to our favor as they MUST provide opportunities for taking it on Sunday.  However, once you are notified of either of these tests coming up, you must immediately find out what you can do to attend the Sunday testing (it may mean driving across town or another city).

When it was time for me to take the PSAT, it turned out that, not only was it on a Saturday, it was during the Feast of Tabernacles.  As we were keeping it in Branson, MO, that year, my parents were able to work it out so I could go to a local school in Branson one afternoon when there was no other Festival events going on so I could take the test there in an empty classroom.

Again, it required diligence to work within the system to do what needed to be done.  My brother had to be driven to another town a few hours away in order to take the SAT as the local Sunday opportunity was not doable.

Be Courteous

Most of all, in all of this, do everything in your power to make it easy on the school and instructors by notifying them early, possibly reminding them so they don't have to make a last minute scramble to get your material to you and meet their deadlines and times for make-up work.  It is not an entitlement that you get the exception, but be thankful that we are blessed to live in a nation that allows for the exception.

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