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The Whiteboard Jungle: The balancing act of choosing days off

April 24, 2014|By Brian Crosby

For the first time in Glendale Unified School District’s history, April 24 is no longer a school day.

Previously, school remained open on the day that commemorates the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians who were killed by the Ottoman Empire in Turkey.

Finally, Glendale Unified has acknowledged the obvious that with such a large Armenian population in the city, educators teaching to half-empty classrooms no longer made sense.

Berdj Karapetian, chairman of the Glendale chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America, said he is “pleased” that Glendale schools will be closed, considering a third of its students are of Armenian descent.

I must admit that many of my colleagues enjoyed working that day in the past if for no other reason than to have class sizes between 15 and 20 instead of the typical 35 to 40. However, little education occurred for those who showed up, including a handful of dedicated Armenian students.

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It makes sense for a school district to take into consideration its student population when determining non-instructional days.

The tricky part for districts, however, is ensuring that the closing of schools is more culturally based rather than religiously oriented.

Members of the Muslim community in New York City have been asking the school district for years to close on two days important to them: one for the end of Ramadan and the other for the Festival of Sacrifice.

While a few cities in the United States, such as Dearborn, Mich., have honored such a request, schools need to be mindful of the separation of church and state. Still, school districts with significant Jewish populations have for years shut down campuses on High Holy Days, which are religious in nature.

While I don’t necessarily oppose such action, it does make one wonder how a system reconciles scheduling religious holidays on a public school calendar with downplaying the use of Christmas music and decorations in December, going so far as rebranding Christmas vacation as winter break.

Students should be encouraged by their parents to celebrate and commemorate important dates in their respective religion and culture. But that doesn’t mean schools have a legal duty to have non-instructional days that will accommodate every possible ethnic or religious group.

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