Tampa Schools Scrap Religious Holidays

Responding to a request from a Muslim group to recognize one of their holidays, the Tampa area Hillsborough County School Board instead took away holidays for Yom Kippur, Good Friday, and other religious holidays that haven’t become totally secularized.

Schools Scrap Religious Holidays (Tampa Bay Tribune)

After weeks of delay and debate, the Hillsborough County School Board approved a 2006-07 calendar minus holidays for Yom Kippur, Good Friday or the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Fitr. The 6-1 vote represents a major shift from scheduling days off on religious holidays, a practice School Board Attorney Tom Gonzalez on Tuesday said was wrong. “A school board cannot recognize a religious holiday for the sole purpose of recognizing a religious holiday,” Gonzalez said at a meeting packed with dozens of members of the Muslim community, some pleading to have no school on holidays for all religions.

So many people celebrate Christmas that businesses can’t operate on that day, Gonzalez said. If large numbers of students and teachers are absent on other religious holidays, the district may opt to again make those days off, he said.

Only board member Jennifer Faliero voted against the new calendar, saying she checked with other lawyers and believes Good Friday is a secular holiday: “It is now about the Easter Bunny. … They have taken religion out of it completely.”

Contrary to the alarm being spread by Hyscience and Lost Budgie, Christmas and Easter aren’t being canceled.

I went to seven different schools before graduating high school and was a student or teacher at six universities and never got Yom Kippur off and only sporadically got Good Friday–and even then it was sometimes canceled as a makeup day for snow. Gonzales is likely right: Christmas is so non-religious in its celebration at this point as to be virtually universal, a belief the Supreme Court reportedly shares.

When I was in grade school, we got Easter vacation. By the time I was in high school, we got either Spring break or, in the odd case of Alabama, “AEA week” because it coincided with the annual meeting of the teachers’ union. Schools get Easter off regardless, since it falls on a Sunday.

Write me when they cancel Christmas. Until then, our society will continue to recognize, rightly, the overwhelming predominance of Christianisty as a cultural backdrop.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Barry says:

    Thunderbird, it’s “kowtow”, and they didn’t do it. If they had, they’d have put muslim holidays on. What they obviously did was to sacrifice existing holidays, rather than recognize a muslim holiday. That would be rather the opposite.

  2. Mark says:

    Barry is right. In fact, the Muslim leader quoted in the story is quite peeved that they got rid of the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.

  3. Doug says:

    When I was in school, we did get Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah off. The reason apparently had something to do with the fact that attendance would fall below state mandated minimums for those days if school was open, meaning that they couldn’t be counted as actual school days on the calendar anyway. Since I am not Jewish, I just looked at it as another day off.

    I don’t ever recall having Good Friday off, except if it was part of the regular Spring Break.

    Personally, I don’t see the big deal about removing purely religious holidays such as these from the school calendar.

  4. jimbo says:

    When I was in school back in the 1950s Jewish kids got their holidays off and they also got Xmas holidays. Nobody cared. Face it, most of ‘culture’ is based in religious observance. It would be better to make sone concession to the Moslems than to abolish formerly religious holidays that mean something to a significant portion of the population even if the meaning is now totally secularized. People are gonna say that they abolished Christmas to appease the Moslems. Please let us not go the way of the French who banned the wearing of crucifixes and Stars of David rather than admit that some Moslem women feel a religious obligation to cover themselves.

  5. Tina says:

    The reason many public schools get a couple of the Jewish holidays off is the large proportion of Jewish students/teachers/administrators in the school’s district. In my sister’s area, they would have to find subs for almost 1/3 of the teachers, and nearly 1/2 of the students wouldn’t be there anyway. They extend the school year farther into June to make up for it. No one has complained yet. Want Eid, etc. off? Fine, grow a large Muslim population and finish school around July 4.

  6. Just Me says:

    Case law requires that schools allow students to take any religious holiday off as an excused absence from school anyway.

    So if they want to take the day, the school can’t count it as an unexcused absence, and the kids just need to make up any missed work.

    I don’t think this is a huge issue. How many people actually attend a Good Friday service during school hours anyway?