FAIRFAX, Va. (FOX 5 DC) - The Fairfax County School Board has voted for a new school calendar that recognizes additional religious and cultural observances but does not include school closures for those days.
The decision came Thursday night when the Board voted to approve the new calendar for the 2021-22 school year. School officials say the new plan was "designed to recognize, respect, and honor the plurality of religious and cultural observances in Fairfax County." The School Board says the new calendar "ensures students will not have to make choices between honoring their religious or cultural observance, or taking a test this coming school year."
Under the new calendar, schools will recognize 15 religious and cultural observances during the school year. According to the new regulations, tests, quizzes, field trips, graduations, homecoming, or FCPS-scheduled athletic events cannot be scheduled on any of the 15 religious and cultural observances. In an earlier press release, FCPS said the regulations would also extend to the day immediately after these designated observances but have since updated their information to say that they would not.
All tests and quizzes, according to the new guidelines, will be given prior to any of the 15 days, so students will not be expected to study on these days. Also, employees will be permitted to make up 16 hours of any time they miss for religious or cultural observances.
"The approach taken in the development of this calendar is one of equity and inclusivity. It aims to center equity by elevating our systems' respect for religious and cultural observances. While this final calendar for 2021-22 may not align with the goals of everyone in Fairfax County, it recognizes all religious and cultural observances where Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has seen above-average absences over the last five years," said School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson. "Going forward, we will establish clearly defined priorities and a robust engagement process that allows us to do this work in a better, more inclusive way."
The religious and cultural observances now recognized include:
- Eid al-Adha
- Rosh Hashanah
- Yom Kippur
- Día de los Muertos
- Diwali, Bodhi Day
- Three Kings Day/Epiphany
- Orthodox Christmas
- Orthodox Epiphany
- Lunar New Year
- Good Friday
- Orthodox Good Friday/Last Night of Passover
- Eid al-Fitr
The new calendar also separates spring break from any religious or cultural observances.
School leaders say the calendar structure is similar to past school years and spreads holidays and teacher workdays evenly throughout the calendar year. The calendar sets the first day of school as Monday, August 23, 2021, and the last day as Friday, June 10, 2022.
The approved calendar includes:
- three-day Thanksgiving break (November 24-26, 2021)
- two-week winter break (December 20, 2021 to December 31, 2021)
- one-week spring break (April 4-8, 2022)
Parents of students who are Hindu, Muslim and Jewish and leaders of several religious communities in Fairfax County argued for the School Board to give them the same privileges of closing their schools for observance of their holy days as they would for days like Christmas.
"This is the time that the school board must face a choice, they must choose between including and more generalization of these communities, they have to choose between unity and division," said Srilekha Palle prior to the Thursday vote. Palle is an FCPS parent who is Hindu and observes Diwali. "Don’t divide the minority communities because we are very united and we look out for each other."