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School plan calls for religious 'floating holidays'

December 30, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Students in Washington County Public Schools and in public schools across Maryland would be given up to two floating days off for religious observance under a proposal by a Maryland State Department of Education committee.

Washington County Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said Wednesday she could support such a plan.

"If the state would approve it, I certainly wouldn't have a problem with it," Morgan said.

The days off would be excused absences and would not count against perfect attendance awards or affect attendance records schools must keep under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The committee on minority student achievement last week voted unanimously in support of the proposal, which would apply to students belonging to "world-recognized religions."

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The committee chairwoman has said the plan would help districts accommodate their multicultural populations without having to close for every holiday.

The Maryland State Board of Education plans to study the proposal, Deputy State Superintendent Ron Peiffer said last week.

Morgan said she wasn't aware of any instances in which Washington County families requested that their children be given days off for religious observance.

Hancock Middle-Senior High School Principal Warren Barrett said he couldn't recall parents ever asking for time off for religious holidays.

"I do get some requests for family trips, but not for that," Barrett said.

He said, however, that educators need to be understanding of their students' religious practices.

"Obviously, I want students to go to school every day, but I also must be tolerant and understanding of students' religious beliefs," Barrett said.

Syed Burmi, imam of the Islamic Society of Western Maryland, said the proposal was a good idea and would allow Muslim students to mark the end of Ramadan without having school absences count against them.

"We would be very happy to have days off," Burmi said.

Jan Dorsey, president of the Washington County Council of Churches, said the group plans to discuss the proposal at its regular meeting next month.

She said the group would have more information to share at that time.

"We'll be working on it," Dorsey said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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