I would like to respond to the assertion, expressed in these pages, that Option A of the 2021-2022 Calendar Proposal Options released by the Loudoun County School Board on Nov. 5 is the only equitable option that doesn’t violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In fact, all of the options presented before the School Board (Options A, B and C) are well within the purview of the First Amendment, especially the Establishment Clause together with the Free Exercise Clause, for none of the options either seeks to nor achieves the establishment of a single state religion. This proposal is not a constitutional matter at all. It is not a legal matter. It is a matter of civics. It is a matter of how we as a community want to acknowledge or ignore the diversity of the people in our county when this people as a whole: Christian Americans, Hindu Americans, Muslim Americans, and Jewish Americans take time to celebrate major religious holidays of our separate faith and ethnic traditions.
Affording these specific holy days off does not mandate students and staff to celebrate these religious holidays any more than observing Veterans Day mandates that we all make a choice to actively honor our Veterans. The same for MLK Jr. Day or Presidents Day. Similarly, including a day off for Christmas during the winter vacation does not mandate anyone go to church or to actively celebrate Christmas. These are days we as a community agree to set aside because we acknowledge that either a large number of people will be absent on that day, or because we decide that by extending the school year by just two days, we can express a great show of respect for those in our community who would benefit from having their most important holy days acknowledged. And we’re not talking about faceless masses. We’re talking about your child’s classmate, or best friend, or teammate, or neighbor, or teacher, or coach or administrator.
As one of my 10th grade students put it, to observe these holidays on our school calendars would be “a kindness.” We are not walking any legal fences here. It’s legal and constitutional to keep things as they are. It’s legal and constitutional to modify them as is proposed. The question is whether we want to extend this “kindness” to one another.
Rabbi Amy J. Sapowith