Cultural observance days require future improvement

CHS+students+may+celebrate+the+eight+nights+of+Hanukkah+by+lighting+a+candle+on+a+menorah+%28pictured+above%29+on+each+night.+Many+other+holidays+celebrated+by+students+have+similar+traditions+that+require+them+to+be+home.+

Maya Dulnev

CHS students may celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah by lighting a candle on a menorah (pictured above) on each night. Many other holidays celebrated by students have similar traditions that require them to be home.

Maya Dulnev, Staff Writer

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is recognized as one of the most diverse school districts in the entire countryrepresenting people from multitudes of races, religions and backgrounds. Prior to this year, however, FCPS has done little to recognize students and staff members that practice religions other than Christianity.

To correct this problem, FCPS recently introduced religious and cultural observances into the 2021-2022 school calendar. This new policy adds 15 cultural observance days to the school calendar and also makes spring break independent from Easter.

“The school system is most concerned with honoring all cultures and religions,” Principal Dr. Scott Poole said. “So all people from all walks of life can practice their religion or cultural observances across the board and so Christians don’t have more [recognition] than Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddist people.”

The school system is most concerned with honoring all cultures and religions”

— Dr. Scott Poole

Although this policy change is refreshing, it brings many limitations on both students and staff members. On the observance days, teachers are not allowed to teach new material, assign major projects, give assessments or hold club or sports competitions. FCPS is the only school district in the area to not make these days student holidays, unlike the Prince William and Loudoun County school districts. Due to these limitations and inconsistencies, teachers have been feeling frustrated and confused, with some feeling like there may be no point in coming to school if there’s nothing for students to do. 

“It seems like [the other counties] actually made some inferences and predictions, making it so that [they can avoid] coming to school and not knowing what to do during the day,” English teacher Andrew Wax said. “I would say that [to improve the days], the administration could actually create stimulating activities [for students] and allot that time so that teachers can actually grade or plan.” 

Many students are torn between supporting the positive sentiment and criticizing the impractical implementation of the observance days. In a poll by The Purple Tide on Instagram, out of 29 students, 59% felt that the cultural observance days were “counterproductive or needed improvement.” 

If you’re acknowledging that there’s a religious holiday there, and that it’s important for some people, then why do we have school?” sophomore Grace Paul said. “Technically, we’re not supposed to have work on those days, but teachers [ignore that], so students try to observe their religious holiday [knowing] that they’re going to get work and can’t [enjoy] what they’re doing.”

Poole encourages all students who believe that their teachers aren’t honoring these cultural observance days to report the issue to administrators so they can correct it.

Though these concerns are valid and need to be addressed, it’s also important to think about the other pressures the school board and administration may be facing this year. 

“To be honest, the issues with religious and cultural observance days are kind of taking a [backseat] for now,” Poole said “There’s a big list of concerns around the division at the moment [that] first and foremost we have to take care of, like keeping everybody physically and psychologically safe when it comes to COVID-19.”

Due to this policy change being in its infancy, and not in a place where it can be easily changed or improved, it seems like the only viable option for students and teachers is to wait while administrators begin to communicate with the school board about issues. FCPS has reached out to the student community with a survey that gauges opinions on next year’s calendar, and those who wish to contribute their opinions will also be given the opportunity to speak at the beginning of two school board meetings and a virtual community meeting. 

Whether any community feedback will yield changes is for time to tell, but for now, it’s important to acknowledge that despite its faults, the implementation of religious and cultural observance days is a step in the right direction to fully representing the CHS community.