District To Vote On Debated Religious Holiday Policy in January
Added time will allow the public to weigh in on the topic and the district's legal counsel to review changes to the policy language.
UPDATED: Nov. 23 at 12:55 p.m.
District 181 will postpone discussion until late January of changes to its policy governing the scheduling of events around religious holidays.
At Monday night's meeting at Hinsdale Middle School, the District 181 School Board discussed adding language to the current policy to consider the number of students affected by a scheduled event that conflicts with a religious holiday. The board discussed a possible change that would state that the expected attendance at an event would be substantially lower, due to the conflict with a religious holiday, in order for the district to consider not participating.
The board is also considering adding language that the district would "make best efforts to avoid conflicts that would be forseeable."
District 181 decided not to vote on changes to the policy language until the board's next meeting on Jan. 24, giving the district's legal counsel time to review the language.
Earlier: "Discussion on District 181's Religious Holiday Policy To Continue Tonight"
by Sabrina Wu and Frank Medina
The discussion about School District 181's policy on scheduling events around religious holidays will continue at Hinsdale Middle School tonight.
The last meeting, on Nov. 15 at the district's offices in Elm School, became tense and emotional when the discussion turned to the wording of the district's policy on scheduling events during religious holidays. The policy states:
"…When planning the school calendar, administrators, principals, teachers, coaches and club sponsors will avoid scheduling events and activities for days or times that would create a foreseeable religious conflict for District 181 families, or when it is foreseeable that attendance of parents or students will be substantially lower than at other times during the school year…"
The discussion stemmed from an event that took place in September, when Hinsdale Central High School invited 11 middle schools to take place in a cross country meet. Two of the schools were from District 181. The event was originally scheduled to take place on Sept. 9, which was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana.
The event was re-scheduled for Sept. 8, to end before sunset when the holiday would begin, but a complaint from a parent in the district caused District 181 officials to decide that its students would not take part.
Margaret and Dale Kleber have a child on the track team. They expressed frustration that their son and his team had not been allowed to compete. They said they also were not notified about the event until after it happened.
"We don't even believe the parent who complained had a child on the team. The policy allows any parent to complain and that is why we have a problem with how the policy was implemented," said Margaret Kleber.
Kleber sent a letter to District 181 dated Nov. 22, which said, "In an attempt to be inclusive, District 181 excluded 130 students from an extracurricular activity that they enjoy and many hope to pursue in high school. With a goal to accommodate religious diversity, District 181 has discriminated against a majority who do not share a given religious belief."
The district spokesperson, Rita DuChateau, said she could not comment on the Klebers' Nov. 22 letters to the school board, until she had a chance to read them.
One school board member said, at the Nov. 15 meeting, that she believed the Kleber's complaint should not be against the district.
"Frankly, I'm struck that the focus has been on the district's implementation of the policy rather than on the high school's decision to schedule the invitational on a date that created a conflict," said Sarah Lewensohn, school board member for District 181.
A community member, who refused to be identified, said the onus should not be put on parents to keep their children from participating on events scheduled during religious holidays.
"I will tell you having grown up in a very similar community demographically, how difficult it was for a young Jewish boy playing sports to say to your teammates, 'No, I can't play that today!' I won't name the religious epithets that I heard when I returned to practice," he said.
The community member said he believes there is nothing wrong with the current policy.
"If you change the wording of the policy, you are gutting the very protections for religious minorities this policy was designed to protect. I think the policy is perfect as it is; I think it was implemented fine," he said.
Hoping to learn why students were denied the opportunity to participate in the event, Kleber had filed a Freedom of Information Act request. She said the district failed to properly respond to her requests.
Renée Schuster, district superintendent, said she believes the matter can be resolved.
"Many people agree with me that the intent of the policy is good, although not everyone feels that we implemented it properly in this case. I do believe, however, that we can make sure we are respectful of others and make sure that some students don't miss out on the opportunities presented to them," Schuster said.
Schuster said she believes the best way to address scheduling conflicts would be to let other districts know up to 18 months ahead of time which days would be off-limits for certain school and extra-curricular activities.
The board agreed to seek legal advice from the district's legal counsel prior to making any further changes to the policy. Board member Yvonne Mayer said the matter should be considered carefully.
"We must be sure that when we do implement this policy that it's done consistently. But even more important, we must be sure that whatever policy we have will withstand any legal scrutiny," said Mayer.
The current language of the policy is relatively new. It has been revised twice since its initial adoption in February 2006, with the last revision being made in March 2010. The District 181 board could vote on any changes to the policy as early as Nov. 22.