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A Times Editorial

School day turned into a mess

The Hillsborough County School District should be embarrassed by the mess it made of classes on Good Friday. This was a regular school day, included on the calendar. Yet rather than function as normal, the district made clear to religious conservatives and overindulgent parents that students and staff could blow off the school day.

This issue should have been settled. Hillsborough spent two years wrangling in the national limelight over the calendar before agreeing to a secular schedule that recognized no religious holidays. Yet rather than hold fast to a decision already made and vetted by a committee of school officials and parents, the district gave a wink and a nod to treat Good Friday as an unofficial holiday. It did not require a minimum number of teachers, bus drivers or other school workers to show up. It did not communicate to every parent the same message about Good Friday classes; some principals sent out automated phone calls; some did not. School Board Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero even framed the truancy in laudatory terms, calling it an exercise in Christian unity.

So this is how we run the nation's eighth-largest school system? Eight in 10 high school students missed school Friday. Hillsborough had to cancel regular bus service to some schools after 40 percent of bus drivers took the day off. The school superintendent tried to spin those numbers as evidence of faith in the county. But school attendance was among the strongest in some of Hillsborough's most socially conservative neighborhoods. And half the bus drivers called in on only a few days' notice. This was not some outpouring of Christian faith, but students and staff gaming the system because they had the opportunity.

What students do on Good Friday should be between them and their families. The issue here is that the school system has a responsibility to be fully functional on scheduled school days. Hillsborough needs to change the policy that allows employees to take personal days, no questions asked. The classrooms, cafeterias and buses need minimum staffing levels. No company could operate if all its employees wanted the same day off. Pinellas has held classes on Good Friday for several years and seems to manage.

The administration and School Board need to stand behind the secular calendar. Faliero in particular needs to realize that the public school system is here to serve Christians and non-Christians alike.

School day turned into a mess 03/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2008 9:27am]
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