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Schools' Good Friday's lesson: whatever

Made-up news item from a couple of years ago:

Associated Press Self-righteous political leaders from Hillsborough County, Fla., appeared on the conservative national TV show The O'Reilly Factor to defend the right of public school students to get the day off for an important religious holiday.

Two county commissioners vigorously argued that the traditional spring holiday, known locally as Macy's Sandal Sale/Mani-Pedi Day, or in some cultures, Clearwater Beach Tan Line Maintenance Day, should remain a day off for students, despite a movement toward a secular school calendar.

"I just think it's time that someone starts to stand up for traditional values in America," said one commissioner.

"It's important," said the other. "It's crucial. It's Clinique Bonus Time."

• • •

In talking about the recent Good Friday "school day" in Hillsborough County, it is first important to note that no one is downplaying the day's religious significance for those for whom it is, indeed, religiously significant.

In the hard-fought debate over the school calender, officials have long made it clear that anyone can take this or any other religious holiday off without penalty.

Now.

To fully understand the insanity that was this past Friday-before-Easter, a bit of history.

After years of hemming and hawing, back-flipping and backsliding, hand-wringing and pontificating — yes, Bill O'Reilly really did weigh in — the Hillsborough School Board voted last year on a sensible, secular school calendar.

Good Friday, for which many governments, other school districts and retail businesses do not close, would no longer be a day off.

Here's how the first one went. Almost 60 percent of students didn't show, including eight out of 10 high school kids, to whom something like "optional" probably sounded like "outta here!"

Also absent were nearly 40 percent of bus drivers. Though some students and teachers did show up and make the best of things, food courts and beach blankets were especially well attended that day.

Blame tradition, and that it can take us a while to get used to change around here.

More important, blame inconsistent messages. Some parents got automated phone calls beforehand explaining the situation; others didn't.

Add to that all the news stories warning of a lack of bus service and a potential outbreak of Good Friday flu.

"Your child may take the day off without penalty," said a script provided to principals, mentioning nothing of religious reasons.

So where was that message from the top?

Where were the big guys, well aware of the coming storm, out front and center to remind everyone that this was a school day like any other? Where were safeguards to prevent too many people from missing work at once?

Oh, sure. Make some excruciatingly embarrassing national headlines, and officials are quick to schedule a big meeting to assure everyone that, in case you were wondering, we are steadfastly against teachers having sex with students.

For Good Friday, the message sounded more like: whatever.

Now there's a lesson for kids: We changed the rules. Please feel free to ignore them.

Schools' Good Friday's lesson: whatever 03/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 1:50pm]
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