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Let's not be childish on school holidays

Just in time for the holidays, a gift for the Hillsborough County School Board: the chance not to be a national embarrassment over religion and school holidays all over again.

Rearing its ugly head is debate over days off on the school calendar, and, yes, Christmas is safe as always as part of winter break.

So what's the big deal, you ask?

Don't other counties like Pinellas manage to hold classes on Good Friday without the earth opening up to swallow the masses?

Ah, but we're talking Hillsborough here, a place where folks don't take to change so easily, home of the occasional fire-and-brimstone elected official and others willing to sabotage change for their own purposes.

The fracas began years back with tentative talk of days off for other religions (yes, there are others), like a Muslim holiday. But when the School Board moved to sensibly make days off "academic" and not religious, a couple of then-county commissioners went on the conservative TV show The O'Reilly Factor for a national gnashing of teeth. (Bet you could name those commissioners if you tried.)

When the School Board later stuck to its guns and made Good Friday a school day last school year, 60 percent of students, 40 percent of bus drivers and one in four teachers took the day off.

Blame well-intentioned over-communication beforehand about respect for religion and reasons you could take the day off for maybe sounding like an invitation to do so. Blame confusing publicity. Blame those determined to buck the system no matter the rules. Blame kids who saw an easy way to blow off school and hit the beach.

Now Good Friday may be on the chopping block again, not next time, when it blessedly falls on spring break, but in the following two years. A committee of parents, teachers and educators is recommending a calendar with no religious holidays, including Good Friday.

(Also up for consideration is the thorny issue of continuing a day off for kids to attend the state fair or, in east county schools, the Strawberry Festival. I'm a big fan of the fair, but it's up to officials to determine the academic value of the day. The committee recommends yes.)

In the end, the calendar is in the hands of the School Board, which you would expect to go with the committee recommendation. But keep an eye on board member Jennifer Faliero, she who has been in some ugly public spats, who favors Good Friday off and whom I vote most likely board member to channel ex-County Commissioner Brian Blair.

Last year's bus driver shortage smacked of a sickout, and the union leader predicts the same absences next time. School districts can make rules on the maximum number of people who can take the day off — or at least make it very clear this is a workday and they are expected to work, drivers to drive, teachers to teach, students to park themselves in their seats and attempt to learn.

No more of this wishy-washy show-up-if-you-want-but-we'll-just-sit-around-watching-movies-and-braiding-each-other's-hair stuff. Send an unambiguous message to teachers, parents, students and personnel: This is a school day.

Because someone needs to be the grownup here. Maybe the School Board could give it a shot.

Let's not be childish on school holidays 11/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 10:24am]
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