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The Campanile

Students face dilemma on religious holidays

When finals come to a close and many Paly students look forward to celebrating the holidays with their families, junior Chloe Laursen faces a break that does not align with the holidays she celebrates. Though it might be difficult for Paly’s calendar to give students the day off for every existing holiday, it seems as though most of the holidays incorporated into the calendar tend to not encompass major holidays celebrated in certain religions.

The three most practiced religions in the United States are Islam, Christianity and Judaism, which brings up question why Christian holidays are the primary holidays schools tend to give off.

However, the Palo Alto Unified School District is not the only district whose calendar is reflective of the “Christian-centered” holidays; many schools across the nation follow a template similar to PAUSD. The PAUSD calendar puts many Paly students in a difficult spot when it comes to celebrating religious holidays. Many Paly students are forced to make a decision between school or their faith.

Juniors like Noa Lehrer and  Laursen choose to observe Jewish holidays with their families instead of attending school. 

“I miss school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur every year, because those are the high holidays of the year.”

Junior Noa Lehrer

Laursen said that her parents do not let her go to school on holidays because it goes against her religious traditions.

“I don’t think that the Paly schedule is fair to all religions, it seems very careful not to interfere with Christian holidays but doesn’t really take into account other religions and their holidays.” Laursen said.

The choice whether or not to go to school is difficult but holiday celebration is an excused absence.

The state of California Education Code Attendance Policy dictates an excused absence as health, court appearance bereavement, college visits, meeting with employers, funeral services or religious purposes.

“While it isn’t ideal to miss school, it usually isn’t detrimental to miss just a couple days and teachers are usually pretty understanding in terms of makeup work, etc.” Lehrer said.

The Paly Attendance staff said it is not up to the individual schools or the District, to make the distinction between what is considered an excused absence.

“The excuses are strictly based on the California  Ed Code.” said the Paly Attendance staff over email.

Junior Zoe Silver opts to celebrate Jewish holidays but still attend school rather than miss classes.

“This year I was too stressed out about missing school so I came to school on Yom Kippur. This was a hard decision because my religion is important to me, however if I missed school I would fall behind and become stressed,” Silver said.

The struggle is not isolated to one religion. Junior Sanaz Ebrahimi faces similar struggles when contemplating celebrating Persian New Year school. Persian New Year is the Iranian New Year, a holiday usually celebrated.

“My mom always encourages me to skip school for Persian New Years, but I’m afraid to miss out on any crucial school work.”

Junior Sanaz Ebrahimi

Paly’s schedule has endured several shifts over the past three years as the bell schedule has be undergoing changes. The Bell Schedule Committee, a group comprised of students, staff and parents, is tasked with looking for an innovative schedule for students and staff alike.

Junior Nathan Strope has been on the committee, and said the committee has looked at all aspects of the current schedule including evaluating holiday breaks, but their main focus is on the bell schedule during school hours.

Strope said, “It was not the focus to benefit or hinder any individuals religious practices by when and for how long the break was.”

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