Illustration by Elena Griedel
The majority of school districts in America schedule breaks around Christian holidays to give students time to celebrate with their families without falling behind in school. Meanwhile, for students who practice other faiths, such as Judaism or Islam, their only option is to miss class time to observe religious holidays.This inevitably leads to missed assignments, tests, and important lessons. The most realistic resolution to this issue is to require teachers to give extensions to students who miss school for religious holidays. While some might percieve this as unfair, treating certain students as though their religion is less valid than others is, to put it simply, discrimination. The way that Christian holidays, particularly Christmas, are viewed as more important than non-Christian holidays completely disregards the value and significance of other religions.
On the next level, students who follow minority religions may feel a sense of otherness when seeking understanding from their teachers and their fellow students. Though required extensions won’t completely solve this problem, creating a place where students feel comfortable being themselves will never be possible if students don’t feel accepted by their teachers and peers.
In an ideal world, students wouldn’t have to go out of their way to ask teachers for extensions after absences for religious reasons. Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) should create calendars to help teachers plan ahead for religious holidays and create a uniform religious holiday absence policy that requires teachers to give out extensions. Taking these steps will give students and teachers a concrete way to deal with absences for religious holidays.
Part of embracing diversity is considering the lives of the people around us and doing our best to get everyone an equal chance to succeed. While this may not seem like an issue to those who can celebrate during the breaks designated by BUSD, it’s important that all students have a chance observe their religion with just as much freedom. Living in our liberal climate can give the impression that what we have here is equality, especially for those who aren’t a part of marginalized groups.
Providing extensions to students who miss school for religious holidays couldimprove the lives of students in BUSD and continue to make our schools inclusive to all.