Some religious leaders in Augusta say that the Augusta School Board should add more holidays to the school calendar.
They say that non-Christian kids are often placed in tough situations between school priorities and their religion.
“They were faced with a decision where they either had to choose between attending an important school event, like homecoming, or an outing to a orchard or something, or observing a religious holiday,” said Chuck Cohen, president of Temple Beth El in Augusta.
He says that even his own daughter faced this problem.
“She was on the soccer team, and a playoff game was scheduled during The High Holidays. It wasn’t the athletic director’s fault, but it was something that could be changed with a little more understanding of what people celebrate,” Cohen said.
Cohen and some other religious leaders worked with a subcommittee of the Augusta School Board to propose a change to the school calendar to “recognize” more religious holidays.
“What it means is that the kids don’t have to make this really difficult choice between choosing a big school event or observing the holiday,” Cohen said.
A decision that some parents say they would be grateful for.
“I think it’s important for my kids to feel like they’re included, and that they’re understood,” Muslim mother Soumia Teber said.
Cohen says it’s important to understand the distinction between “recognizing” a holiday from a designating an official school holiday. He says that school would still be open on new holidays they are proposing — which could be as many as 10 — but says that students who observe those holidays would be allowed to skip school without penalty to celebrate with their family. He says the school district will also try to avoid scheduling events on that day.
“When the school or teachers are scheduling events, special events like homecoming, field trips, step up days, they will be aware of those holidays, and will make their best effort to avoid conflicts,” Cohen said.
Some parents say this would be a step in the right direction, since most of the districts holidays are centered around Christianity.
“It’s not purposefully being discriminated against, but inadvertently being discriminated against… Having to sing Christmas carols at Christmas time, making Easter baskets, everybody is not Christian,” Jewish grandmother Judith Plano said.
Some say they just want to be treated the same way during their holiday season as they treat Christians.
“We accept other people, with their differences and their backgrounds, and I think we should be accepted too,” Teber said.
The Augusta School Board will take up the proposal in a public hearing on Wednesday at 7 p.m. inside of city council chambers.
To read the full proposal, click here.