LCPS budget approval - Mahedavi, Sheridan

From left, Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn District) and Loudoun County School Board Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) vote during a meeting on Feb. 4.

On Nov. 5, the Loudoun County School Board released its 2021-2022 Calendar Proposal Options for public comment. Option A models the current school calendar with 180 student days; Options B and C (proposed by Harris Mahedavi, Ashburn District) include the religious holidays of Yom Kippur, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, and Rosh Hashanah, reduce the number of student days to 179 and 178 respectively, and move the last school day from June 15 to June 17, 2022.

Option A is the only equitable option that doesn’t violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the Establishment Clause, which prevents the government (federal, state and local [implied]) from establishing a religion. The Establishment Clause together with the Free Exercise Clause is more commonly referred to through jurisprudence as separation of church and state.

By including the religious holidays/observances of Yom Kippur, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, and Rosh Hashanah in Options B and C, the School Board would be violating the First Amendment by essentially mandating that all Loudoun County Public Schools students and staff observe those religious holidays/observances whether or not the individuals follow the tenets of the religions of Judaism, Hinduism and Islam.

LCPS and the the School Board effectively resolved the issue almost 40 years ago when they removed the Christian holidays of Christmas and Good Friday/Easter Monday from the school calendar, and instead opted for the more benign Winter Break and Spring Break. They furthered the objective of providing a religiously-neutral educational environment by eliminating Christmas Band and Choral Concerts and replacing them instead with Winter Concerts.

Students and staff of LCPS are free to practice whatever religion they choose, or no religion. That is a Constitutionally protected right afforded to everyone. Individuals who wish to be absent from school to observe Yom Kippur, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, or Rosh Hashanah as an extension of their faith can simply be granted an excused absence to do so. This fulfills the obligations of LCPS/LCSB under the Free-Exercise Clause.

I strongly suggest that Mr. Mahedavi and the entirety of the Loudoun County School Board familiarize themselves with the U.S. Constitution, specifically the First Amendment, prior to putting forth any further proposals of this nature. I further urge everyone to contact the Loudoun County School Board and demand that our constitutional rights be protected by removing Options B and C from consideration. This is something on which people of all religions, even atheists and agnostics, should be able to agree.

John Havener is a Leesburg resident.

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