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6116 Cultural Diversity and Religion in the Schools

Adoption Date: 05/16/2006
6000 - Instruction
Elementary and Secondary
6116 Cultural Diversity and Religion in the Schools

The Board of Education acknowledges the importance of religion in the understanding of society and the richness of the human experience. In approaching the teaching about religion in the schools, the District will be guided by three concepts when making decisions about the appropriateness of activities for inclusion in the school program:

1. the activity should have a secular purpose;
2. the activity should neither advance nor inhibit religion; and
3. the activity must not foster an excessive entanglement of government with religion.

Fostering the development of knowledge and respect for the rights of all cultural and religious groups is a continuing goal of the School District. Opportunities to learn about cultural and religious traditions should be provided within the framework of the curriculum. Information about religious and cultural holidays and traditions focusing on how and when they are celebrated, their origins and histories should be part of this instruction. This educational opportunity should be handled with great care, sensitivity and respect for the feelings and beliefs of individuals.

An environment should be created and encouraged where students of various ethnic backgrounds feel comfortable in sharing comments about their religious and cultural traditions. No student should be singled out to share or participate in such discussions solely on the basis of the student’s identification with the cultural/religious heritage being addressed. A student’s preference not to share or participate in such discussions should be honored and respected without penalty.

School Activities Related to Religious Holidays or Themes

1. School activities related to the teaching about religious holidays or themes must be consistent with, representative of, and congruent with the District’s curriculum.
2. In planning school activities related to the teaching about religious holidays or themes, special effort must be made to ensure that the activity is not devotional and that students of all faiths can join without feeling they are betraying their own beliefs.
3. In planning school activities related to the teaching about religious holidays or themes, age appropriate activities are encouraged within the framework of the curriculum. Teaching about religious and cultural holidays may include such special activities as parties and special foods, if they reinforce the educational goals.

Symbols in the Schools

The purpose of using religious symbols should be to teach about religious concepts and traditions, and to convey historical or cultural content, not to promote or celebrate religious concepts, events or holidays.

1. Classroom use on a temporary basis and/or display of religious symbols is permitted as a teaching resource or aid only within the framework of the curriculum. Such use and/or display should provide an environment whereby students of all faiths can participate without betraying their own beliefs.
2.  Even when it may be compatible with the instructional setting, a display outside the classroom whose themes focus on the religious holiday(s), tradition(s) or symbol(s) of any religion is not appropriate.
3. Individual student-initiated expressions in response to any given project may take the form of religious writing, musical composition or artwork. These creations will be guided by the teacher and may be displayed in the school in the same manner as other student created expressions. They are to be evaluated in the same manner as any other student product.
4. Individual expression of religious belief by means of wearing of religious symbols on the person or on clothing is a protected expression of faith.

Music in the Schools

The purpose of using religious music should be to teach musical concepts, to convey historical and cultural content, or to create aesthetic experiences in a setting which emphasizes artistic expression and educational value, not celebration of faith.
1. Religious music should be appropriate for performance any time during the school year.
2. Musical programs prepared for or presented by student groups as an outcome of the instructional program should not be religious or religious holiday oriented. However, seasonal programs may include religious music. On those occasions when religious music is included in a seasonal program the music should not dominate the program and should be balanced and inclusive.
3. Parents/guardians and students should be informed that requests for the student to not participate in singing or playing religious music will be respected. Such requests should be made by the parents/guardians as early as possible in the school year so that students may fulfill course requirements in another way without penalty.

District Calendar

The days on which members of a religious group may be absent to observe a religious holiday (legal absence) will be noted on the school planning calendar and the District calendar distributed to parents. Out of respect for a student’s observance of these holidays, teachers will be sensitive to the needs of the students by allowing them to make up all new work, homework and tests without penalty. Parents/guardians are encouraged to notify the school prior to the absence in order to assist the staff in instructional planning and in meeting the needs of the student.

1. To the extent possible, school events will not be scheduled on religious holidays, including evenings of observance.
2. In scheduling graduations, the school administration will be sensitive to the religious observations and restrictions of all students.

Policy References:
U.S. Constitution, First Amendment Education Law §3210