A Model Public School Holiday Policy

From the Lincoln, Nebraska Public Schools:

The Lincoln school district complies with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The First Amendment requires that public schools neither promote nor interfere with the practice of religion. This requirement sometimes presents some difficult situations for schools. For one thing, schools are expected to teach about many facets of society, including the moral, ethical and religious values held by people in that society. For another, schools are a part of the fabric of our American society – and so is religious practice. Schools are required to be a part of practically all activities that go on in a community, including religious holidays, while avoiding either the promoting of religious practices or interference with religious practices.

To further complicate the situation, some religious observances have evolved into cultural, secular observances, while still retaining religious meaning for many Americans. Christmas, Easter and Hanukkah are examples of religious holidays that are now observed as cultural events. Other holidays have their origins in religion, but have lost practically all religious meaning in terms of the way most Americans observe the holidays. Valentine’s Day and Halloween are examples.

The issue for schools is how to allow students to be a part of American society’s observance of such events and yet not require any student to participate in an observance which conflicts with the student’s religious beliefs.

To avoid interfering with the religious practices of students, efforts are made to avoid scheduling major tests and major student activities on dates of religious significance. If you are concerned about any particular date on which there might be a school conflict with your family’s religious activities, please call your child’s school.

In an effort to deal with this admittedly complex situation, Lincoln Public Schools has developed guidelines with advice from citizens, religious leaders and staff members. The guidelines are intended to help staff members be sensitive to the problems surrounding religious events without robbing those events of their luster as part of our American heritage. Guidelines are as follows:

All activities included in the instructional program shall be inclusive and pluralistic – that is, students of varying cultural, ethnic and religious heritage should be able to feel included and feel comfortable being included.

1. The role that diverse religious traditions have played in the historical development of our society should be recognized.

2. A school program or student performance should not be a forum for religious worship – all school programs should serve an educational purpose.

3. Student participation in any program, or performance (e.g., music) which may involve religious materials which a student may find personally objectionable should be voluntary.

4. Persons who are authorities on a particular culture or religion may serve as resources in the classroom.

5. Religious symbols may be used as teaching aids when used objectively to teach about a religious heritage.

6. Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and Easter eggs and bunnies are considered to be secular, seasonal symbols and may be displayed provided they do not disrupt the instructional program for students.

7. Holiday parties may be held as long as they do not become religious observances, as long as all children can be included or positive alternatives provided for those who choose not to participate.

8. In ceremonial functions, opening and closing remarks are used instead of invocations and benedictions.

9. Because baccalaureate is a traditionally religious service, it is sponsored by a community group rather than by the school district.

We appreciate the support Lincoln parents have traditionally given to Lincoln Public Schools. Your cooperation with the schools as they attempt to follow these guidelines will be most helpful.

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