Religious Observance Policy: Alleged violations of new FCPS no-work policy frustrate students across faiths

Miss school or miss an important religious holiday —this is a predicament students like freshman Rachel Ackerman are faced with every year.

To increase religious inclusivity, FCPS implemented religious observance days, requiring teachers to not teach any new material, assign new work or have any testing on certain holidays. However, some students believe they have not achieved this goal.

Ackerman mentioned a packet she recieved in one of her classes on an observance day.

“Technically they’re not allowed to assign ‘new’ work, but it was the [information] you need to know for the next unit that we hadn’t learned, so I was kind of annoyed.”

Junior Rhea Patel said she has also received work on observance days. She cited a test as an example.

“The test I wasn’t that mad about,” Patel said, “but working on [internal assessments] and stuff on a religious observance day is draining.”

This makes missing any observance day hard, despite the goal of the initiative. Additionally, students may feel uncomfortable bringing the issue up with their teachers, which Ackerman said she understands.

“I feel like if I were to talk about it, then my teachers would be like, ‘But we’re actually trying,’” she said. “I get that they’re trying but, I don’t know.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington has been advocating for school closures on the two holidays, as well as Diwali and Eid. On March 18, the FCPS County School Board voted to deny these requests.

“As Shabbat nears, we want to take a moment to reflect on last night’s deeply disappointing vote,” the JCRC responded in a statement the next day. “[The decision] was a slap in the face to Fairfax County’s Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities.”

Ackerman’s temple, Rodef Shalom, sent out an email standing beside the JCRC.

“We join with our interfaith partners in disappointment,” Rabbi Amy Schwartzman and other leaders wrote on March 19. “We will continue to work with FCPS on behalf of our students and families to make progress on these issues.”

Though Ackerman understands the struggle of teachers with the new schedule, she said she is still frustrated by FCPS’s handling of the situation.

“I think we should just have the days off,” she said. “Two days a year? We get a lot of time off for Christmas and a lot of time for Easter—why do we not get two days off?”