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Austin Cline

Can Public Schools Close for Religious Holidays?

By January 2, 2013

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The question of closing school is a difficult dilemma for school administrators: if they keep schools open, they risk being portrayed as insensitive to the minority religious faiths in their community; but if they close the schools, they risk being portrayed as trying to show favoritism. This, of course, is a consequence of the tradition of always closing for Christmas -- if schools never closed for any religious holiday, there could be no charges of favoritism and little basis for the allegation of any particular insensitivity.


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December 19, 2007 at 8:37 pm
(1) CrypticLife says:

Well, most schools get around this for Christmas by having a “Winter Break”, which covers a date range.

December 19, 2007 at 10:15 pm
(2) DeeGee says:

To me, there are two issues here: (1) high absenteeism – whether it is by the teachers and/or by students, and (2) cost-savings from closing the schools during cold weather. This [reason (1) only] is not really a whole lot different than what you find in the private sector.

A hebrew school with which I do some volunteer work is open during Christmas week but is closed in the middle of January for a Jewish holiday not as well known as the “big” ones such as Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur.

I recall one year back in the late 1960s when my public school was open the day after Thanksgiving. Never happened again.

April 4, 2010 at 9:59 pm
(3) Simon says:

I was speaking to a teacher about this. Schools close for religious holidays due almost entirely to financial considerations. Teachers would take the day as a personal day otherwise (call in sick), and the economics of it are such that it is easier to just shut down for the day. If this is the motivation, I think it is probably constitutional.

April 5, 2010 at 2:39 am
(4) P Smith says:

I don’t like the religious connotation of such holidays, but like anyone else, I appreciate the time off. Having said that…

The most idiotic thing about “christmas break” (or other holidays) is not the religion, but when it occurs: late in the first semester of the school year. It happens barely a month before final exams for junior and senior high school students, interrupting their education. The same is true for elementary schools, though to a lesser degree because there are no semesters.

When those kids are away for two weeks, they are not thinking about school or doing their homework, they’re sloughing it off. A week’s holiday would be more than sufficient and prevent any backsliding. Then again, I remember what I was like in school, and kids did not do any homework during spring break, either.

I teach English as a second language in Taiwan (and formerly, in South Korea), and there is no “christmas break”. In South Korea, schools close on December 25th (if it’s on a weekend, there is no day off), and in Taiwan, the 25th is just another day. For an atheist, working on December 25th is no big deal, though many westerners flip out about it.

The two big holidays in Taiwan, mainland China and South Korea are summer vacation and winter vacation (a/k/a Chinese New Year). South Korean public schools close for two months of the year, February and August, leaving two uninterrupted five month stretches. Taiwan offers less, two weeks in August and nine days for Chinese New Year, but again both are spaced on opposite ends of the calendar, ensuring the kids have two equally long terms. I can’t speak about the PRC having never worked there, but I’ve heard it’s much the same.

It’s a far better way of operating schools than the way western schools do. Two month summer vacation, two weeks in December and Spring break? That’s mindless.

It would be much better to run schools as Asians do, or to have four terms per year – ten weeks of school with four three week holidays between them. And if people still want “christmas” off, let them, just make it a day or two, not a week or two.

Just as long as I get New Year’s Day off, I’m happy.

January 2, 2013 at 3:40 pm
(5) Cephus says:

Christmas is not a religious holiday anymore, it’s been completely secularized. The vast majority of Americans celebrate it in a wholly non-religious fashion. Therefore, schools are not closing on religious holidays, only on secular ones.

January 4, 2013 at 3:14 am
(6) Brandyn says:

I’m an atheist (and an anti-theist at that) and I still celebrate Christmas. As Cephus said, it’s more secular and commercial than anything else.

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