A committee of parents and educators in Hillsborough County has proposed a school calendar for 2009-2010 that drops religious holidays. This is a thoughtful step toward ending a controversy enabled by the very people — school administrators, the unions and publicity-hungry politicians — whose cooperation is essential.
Removing religious holidays from the calender was the only appropriate recommendation this committee could make. The public schools have a secular mission. Their job is not to pick which religious holidays — or by association, which entire faiths — are legitimate or popular enough to warrant a day off from school.
The controversy erupted three years ago after area Muslims — noting that Hillsborough schools were off for Good Friday, the Monday after Easter and Yom Kippur — sought a day for Ramadan. But Christian conservatives blasted the idea as inconsistent with America's "Judeo-Christian" heritage. One county commissioner upped the wattage by appearing on Fox's Bill O'Reilly show and claiming that "special interest groups" had "whittled away" at America. The bigotry came full circle after the School Board in a matter of weeks reversed its decision to forgo religious holidays.
The school district should embrace the recommendation for a secular calendar and make sure their employees follow it. It sent a bad message this year by having it both ways — holding classes on Good Friday but also making clear that students and staff members could blow off the school day. Teachers and bus drivers need to show up for work. It is unfortunate that the leader of the bus drivers' union is so cavalier about the disaster his members helped cause this year, when 40 percent of drivers took the day off. "Be prepared," he said this week, "for the same thing to happen again."
The calender committee did its job. Now the people paid to run the schools need to do theirs.