Henrico Schools to observe more religious holidays

Henrico Schools to observe more religious holidays

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico students may get more time off for religious observances come the 2020-2021 school year.

The school system is working on a new calendar that includes more religious holidays and has released two versions for the public to vote on.

“The calendar versions both seek to accomplish a variety of ends, such as a post-Labor-Day start; planning, clerical and professional learning time for teachers; and observance of religious holidays,” HCPS said in a news release.

One version has a shorter winter break, but six student holidays during the year; another version has two weeks of winter break with four student holidays.

Version A:

  • First Day of school: Sept. 8.
  • Winter Break: Wednesday, Dec. 23 – Friday, Jan. 1 (return to school Jan. 4).
  • Spring Break: April 5-9 (encompasses Easter).
  • Last day of school: June 18.
  • Four half days for students: Jan. 29, Feb. 15, April 2 and June 18.
  • Six student holidays: Sept. 28 (Yom Kippur), Nov. 2 (parent-teacher conferences), Nov. 3 (Election Day), Nov. 13 (Diwali), March 12, and May 13 (Eid al-Fitr).
  • Student holidays and half days are also clerical or professional learning days for teachers.

Version B:

  • First Day of school: Sept. 8.
  • Winter Break: Monday, Dec. 21 – Friday, Jan. 1 (return to school Jan. 4).
  • Spring Break: April 5-9 (encompasses Easter).
  • Last day of school: June 18.
  • Five half days for students: Jan. 29, Feb. 15, March 12, April 2 and June 18.
  • Four student holidays: Sept. 28 (Yom Kippur), Nov. 3 (Election Day), Nov. 13 (Diwali) and May 13 (Eid al-Fitr).
  • Student half days and holidays are also clerical or professional learning days for teachers.

However, the new religious holidays incorporated on the calendar are Yom Kippur, Diwali and Eid al-Fitr.

“We’re just very grateful that the school community took that into consideration,” said David Cohen, a spokesman for the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. “This is what hard work gets you. This is what community relations can do for you and gets you recognized, appreciated and understood."

Cohen said the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond has worked for years to get other religious holidays incorporated on school calendars across the area.

“We’re very sensitive to the needs of their calendar and how many days the students need to be in but we still ask the question - is this possible,” he said. “To see it actually come out in print makes it feel like the work we’ve been doing has been listened to and that our views and our position as a minority faith community has really been respected.”

Now students will have at least one day off for some religious holidays and festivals that weren't recognized on the calendar before.

“Yom Kippur in particular is important because many [people] in our community will use that as a day of fasting and deep, deep reflection and introspection,” Cohen said. “The fact that we know that’s what we can focus on that day and not worry about getting the kids to school or make up work, all of that stuff, it’s just really gratifying to know that was listened to.”

For the Diwali holiday Hindu statesman Rajan Zed welcomed Henrico's proposal. Zed released a statement Friday reading in part:

“Holiday on Diwali in Virginia schools would be a step in the positive direction in view of presence of a substantial number of Hindu students at schools around the state, as it was important to meet the religious and spiritual needs of Hindu pupils.”

Zed also suggested all Virginia schools, public-private-charter-independent schools to, “seriously look into declaring Diwali as an official holiday, thus recognizing the intersection of spirituality and education… Awareness about other religions thus created by such holidays like Diwali would make Virginia students well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow.”

Dr. Muhammad Rais, President of the Islamic Center of Virginia, also welcomed HCPS’s decision to observe Eid al-Fitr.

“It is great pleasure to learn about Henrico County Public School decision to observe more or all religious holidays to include all religions under first amendment of US constitution,” Dr. Rais said. “This is a milestone to give the inclusiveness of other religions to the citizenship of America. It would be a very nice pathway for other county schools to follow to allow other religion followers to celebrate their religious holidays and exercise their religion freedom.”

“That’s what this is really about, feeling welcomed and a real part of the larger Richmond community,” Cohen said.

Now Cohen hopes Henrico’s move to showcase its diversity will have an effect on other school systems.

“I do think other communities will look at what Henrico County is doing and say maybe this is something we need to take more seriously,” Cohen added.

Voting continues until Dec. 1.

The School Board is expected to vote on the 2020-21 calendar at its Dec. 12 meeting.

Copyright 2019 WWBT. All rights reserved.