Religious absences raise questions

by Natasha Halarnkar, staff writer

Every school year, a number of Cal High students are forced to spend a religious holiday in school  to avoid getting an unexcused absence.

Eid, Diwali and Rosh Hashanah are some such religious festivals in which students are not excused.

“Only certain holidays are excused by the district,” said Sharon Nudelman, head of attendance.  “We are usually fine with absences as long as they are not excessive.”

Students can only miss school “due to observance of a holiday or ceremony of his or her religion, attendance at religious retreats,” according to the Department of Education of California.

Although the district does excuse some specific holidays, people differ upon the importance of other festivals and holidays.

“Students should be excused mainly for big festivals,” said Vinita Battu, a Cal parent and teacher. “We can’t have all the days off, but we would like to have one day off.”

Some students have had trouble with missing school during their religious festivals.

“Once I got to high school, and had classes in which lectures were important, I sometimes chose not to skip the day of school, because I was afraid to miss the notes or lessons of the day,” said senior Jessica Lazarus.

Jessica, who celebrates Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, said she has to spend her time making up school work in the middle of her cultural festivals.

Some students think that students should be excused for all religious customs.

“Students should be excused for religious holidays because everyone needs a fair opportunity to celebrate their holiday,” said senior Kanika Puri.

But other students disagree.

“If we have holidays for all religious festivals, then there won’t be any time for school,” said junior Kenneth Zhang.

Students don’t think it is fair that Christian holidays such as Christmas are excused but religious holidays of other cultures and faiths are considered as unexcused absences.

“Christian students are very lucky to have time off from school for family and friends to get together and enjoy Christmas and Easter,” said Jessica.  “Those who have religious holidays on regular school days should also have the opportunity to celebrate and enjoy their family’s company.”

Since some holidays are excused by the district, students do get a chance to celebrate some of their respective festivals.

But students still have to make up work from the lectures or projects that they have been assigned in school.

“Religious holidays are a time for family to come together, to celebrate, and to keep traditions alive,” said Jessica.  “It’s difficult to do this to the full extent when a student has to worry about missing school and making up schoolwork.”

To be excused, a parent must call the attendance office.

If a student calls instead, and the administration finds out, then the student gets a Monday school.

Some students might take advantage of this policy and start lying about holidays, said Kenneth.

“I think there should be more flexibility in the school system with regards to religious holidays,” said Jessica.