Senior Karabelo Bowsky hastily finishes her math homework in her car, hoping to complete them before she has to attend the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah. Bowsky, who is Jewish, struggles to balance religion and school. By fulfilling her religious and cultural commitments, Bowsky misses out on the chance to study for tests.
Bowsky is not alone in her struggle. The school’s calendar, which centers around Christian-based holidays, does not extend the benefit of scheduled days off to religious minorities. An obvious example is winter break, the two-week break that always centers around Christmas, a Christian holiday, and New Years.
Country Day is a diverse and respectful community, but it should extend its values of diversity, equity, and inclusion to better accommodate different religious holidays for its student body.
Students are able to take the day off to attend to their holidays at the cost of an excused absence.
Although not damaging to their attendance record, missing a day of school puts these students behind in terms of classwork and homework. If Country Day transformed these holy days into holidays, students would be able to enjoy their religious events to the fullest without sacrificing academics. Junior Gulzar Sohal, a Sikh, supports the idea.
“A day off would be more useful because I wouldn’t have to worry about submitting homework the next day,” Sohal said. “Some people sacrifice religion due to school. School shouldn’t decide how you celebrate a religious holiday.”
Making space for holidays across different religions could help educate the community about varying religious practices and events. Bowsky said the idea would work. “I think it’d be really cool if we could make that a thing. You’d get the same opportunities as your classmates.”
Head of School Lee Thomsen said he understands the need to be respectful of the religious minorities within Country Day but notes some problems. Thomsen said one-day breaks may disrupt workflow for students. “It depends on how many days we’re taking away. If it’s two or three days, then it may be fine. But eight or nine days could lead to disruption. There’s a certain rhythm and consistency to the schedule,” Thomsen said.
“I have a feeling that some people would believe that would be great, but other people may say, ‘Just when I was getting into the flow we took another break,’” he said. Additionally, parents of lower and middle school students may struggle to find babysitters for their children during the breaks.
Another issue is that some events, like Ramadan, celebrated by Muslims, including freshman Sammy MoheyEldin, are month-long events, and it would be impossible for the school to accommodate them in its calendar. However, the school could give a day off to an important day in Ramadan, such as Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
One challenge the school may face is lunar calendars or holy days that have varying dates. Ramadan is based on the Islamic calendar, which is based on a lunar system. MoheyEldin said this will not be an issue because lunar cycles can be predicted, and the school can adjust its calendar around that. According to Thomsen, another obstacle is choosing which holy days to give one-day breaks for. “Which faiths do we choose to represent?” Thomsen asked. One method is asking the community what they believe in.
A Nov. 8 poll of Country Day’s high school student body found that 85% of 34 respondents supported a school holiday to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid-al-Fitr, Eid-al-Adha, Diwali and Gurpurab.
However, a disadvantage for students would be losing days in other breaks, such as summer vacation. Any day removed from the school calendar would have to be replaced, either in the beginning of the school year or the end.
Sohal said that adding holidays to the calendar is worth starting school a few days earlier.
“If it benefits religion or a person, it wouldn’t be too bad if we had an extra day of school. If it’s helping someone else, I think people could go through having an extra day of school. I think having a day break throughout the school year would benefit everyone,” Sohal said.
Starting earlier would have another benefit.“I know AP teachers would love to start earlier in the year,” said Head of High School Brooke Wells. So, the school should add six days to the beginning of the year to account for the six days that would be lost to the celebration of religious holidays.
— By staff
This story was originally published in the Nov. 16 issue of The Octagon