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In most schools in the US, there's a "spring break" or "spring recess" that coincides with Passover. It is my understanding that under Jewish law, Jews can't attend classes during Passover or certain other holidays. However, there seems to be a trend towards eliminating spring recess from school schedules, and I can't shake the feeling that this is discriminatory and illegal as it would put Jewish students at a disadvantage.

Under United States federal law, would requiring students to attend classes during religious holidays constitute discrimination, exposing the school to liability under civil rights laws? What if the school provided make-up work for students who cannot attend classes but otherwise held classes during such holidays? (Answers that cover this from a federal standpoint are preferred, but if a state is required for an answer, assume New York.)

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  • I think truancy is still state regulated, so a state may be required for a good answer. I would assume for all of them religion would either have exemptions or at least make prosecutors very reluctant to press charges. My local rules allow many unexcused absences before intervention and a religious holiday would certainly be countable as an excused absence. – user4460 Oct 2 '17 at 15:58
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    A school can be sued for anything, prevailing is another matter. – ohwilleke Oct 2 '17 at 16:59
  • @notstoreboughtdirt: Wouldn't federal preemption come into play if a state had an education law that conflicted with federal civil rights law? – bwDraco Oct 2 '17 at 17:07
  • A great number of days are holidays in several religions, yet there is no break over the time they occur. Isn't this already discrimination, then, according to your feeling? No, of course not. The loss of a privilege nobody else possessed is not the same as the gain of a disadvantage. Resolving the conflict between personal religious and public academic obligations is on the religious person, not the public – Nij Oct 2 '17 at 19:47
  • Most Jewish Holidays (definitely Passover) are celebrated after sunset, which, given the general time of the year, would be well past the dismissal from public schools, so the issue is moot here. Passover occurs on the first full moon following the Spring Equinox and coincides with Easter (the Last Supper was a Passover celebration, so Easter is always the first Sunday following the First Full Moon following the Spring Equinox). Spring Break does not universally coincide with these dates. School Calendars are not set by federal law but local laws. State law determines the number of days. – hszmv Nov 21 '17 at 14:28
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A school district has been sued for something like that. In Church of God, Etc. v. Amarillo Indep. Sch., 511 F. Supp. 613, plaintiffs successfully sued the school district "to enjoin the enforcement of the Amarillo School District's absence policy which limits the number of excused absences for religious holidays to two days each school year", where "A fundamental tenet of the Church of God is that members must abstain from secular activity on seven annual holy days". The school district imposed an absence polity where "School work missed may be made up whether an absence is excused or unexcused", and "Excused absences shall be granted to students for a maximum of 2 days for religious holidays in each school year". The court concluded that "This policy poses an unquestionable burden on the Plaintiffs' religious belief", and "This burden is not ameliorated by the make-up work provision. The provision does not require a teacher to evaluate the work made up. It in fact directs the teacher to enter a zero for that work". In this case "Summary judgment is granted and judgment rendered enjoining the enforcement of the Amarillo Independent School District's excused absence policy insofar as it limits the number of excused absences for religious holidays". This is not a matter of religious discrimination, this is a First Amendment issue. The policy is in violation of the Free Exercise clause.

Eliminating spring break per se is not a problem: doing so and providing no excused absences is the problem. In the above case, there was clear a religious principle of the church to the effect that one must be off the clock on the holiday. As far as I know, there is no requirement to abstain from work or school on Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. Nevertheless, in recognition of New Jersey state law which allows any student to take off a religious holiday – including Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, and dozens more – the Board of Education has prepared a list of such holidays, which includes Wiccan, Hindu, Baha'i, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Church of Scientology (and so on) religious holidays.

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