The Hillsborough County School Board allowed itself to be dragged into an ugly national spectacle several years ago in a political fight over whether the schools should be in session on Good Friday, the Christian holiday commemorating Jesus' crucifixion. It was less about faith than about opportunistic politicians milking a hot-button issue. The board redeemed itself in 2008 by getting out of the religion business and embracing a secular calendar. The decision was the right one, and the board should not abandon it now.
The board is expected to vote on the 2010-11 calendar today, and once again politics are overshadowing the debate. When Hillsborough made Good Friday a school day again in 2008, board members said they wanted to see at least two years of attendance figures before addressing the matter again. In 2008, 58 percent of the students were no shows; 1,900 teachers called in for substitutes. This year, those figures dropped significantly, with 42 percent of the students and 1,400 teachers absent.
Despite clear evidence that more teachers and students are showing up on Good Friday, board members still look eager to placate conservative voters. This is not surprising in an election year in which every incumbent faces opposition. But the board needs to keep several things in mind. Public schools serve a secular mission. Their job is not to recognize — and by doing so, legitimize — one religion over another. The whole backlash over Good Friday started when conservatives bashed Muslims for seeking a school holiday. The School Board should not invite such division and national ridicule again.
Board members also need to quit pretending that the issue is one of personal faith. Students skip Good Friday to hit beaches, the movies and the mall, and many families have come to expect the extra day to enjoy a long Easter vacation. The district also has allowed teachers and bus drivers to game the system. It would be a perverse result if the board members allowed the very people who show no respect for the school calendar to dictate it. Good Friday should be treated by the district like any other day — and if school is in session, the people collecting a check from the public need to show up for work.