Changes to school calendar support diverse student body

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Shreeja Tangutur

New student and staff holidays enforced in the FCPS school year calendar.

By Shreeja Tangutur, Chantilly High School

Controversy stirred after several Northern Virginia counties such as Prince William, Loudon and Arlington closed school on Nov. 4, 2021, for Diwali, an important cultural celebration celebrated by many Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, according to Fairfax Times. However, instead of designating the day as a holiday, Fairfax County identified the day as a religious observance day, meaning the school was still in session.

“I was confused that we didn’t get a holiday because Fairfax County has such a large South Asian population,” senior Sruti Kurapati said. 

According to the Washington Post, after facing pushback from religious organizations and parents to represent minority holidays, several school board members criticized the 2021-2022 school year’s calendar, and called for change. As a result, Fairfax County worked closely with the Religious Observances Task Force to adopt a new calendar for the 2022-2023 school year, according to FCPS. This group included representatives from McLean Islamic Religious center, Jewish Community Relations Center and the Hindu American Foundation.

“Having representatives from major religious groups will create a calendar to emphasize the inclusivity of diversity that represents our school,” Kurapati said.

The previous 2021-2022 school year gave 15 religious observance days, meaning school was in session on these days with limited instruction. However, this year instruction can be given but not exams.  The school board has also continued to give religious observance days, a new religious observance day that is included this year is All Saints Day, also known as Dia de los Muertos.

Another change is three of the previously designated observance days have been recognized as student religious holidays, which include Rosh Hashanah, Orthodox Good Friday and Eid-al-Fitr and two have been designated as religious holidays for both staff and students which include Diwali and Yom Kippur.  

“Unlike last year, I can now celebrate Diwali with my family at home,” junior Navya Kota said. “To commemorate the day, we are [planning to] cook some food and pray and then shoot fireworks at night.” 

Similar to the previous year, schools must follow the appropriate guidelines regarding  assignments on religious observance days. According to FCPS, events such as graduation, homecoming, sporting events and field trips cannot be scheduled on these religious observance days in addition to summative events. New material and assignments can be introduced as long as it is made available on Schoology. Schools are not permitted to conduct safety drills and professional development activities on both three partial-day and seven full-day observances. 

“The regulations Fairfax County has put in place doesn’t make us sacrifice important celebrations,” Kota said. “They all have significance to students and we now can enjoy them fully without the worry of school and work to finish.” 

According to FCPS, another significant change to the calendar is the additional week to the school year. Due to Virginia Law requiring 180 days or 990 hours of instruction, the designation of these holidays requires the school year to be extended slightly.

“I feel like the calendar is much more inclusive,” senior Jessica Tian said. “To support that, I think it makes sense that you have to start school a little earlier and end a little bit late.” 

These new holidays in place will allow these students to carry out their cultural practices on the designated days. 

“The new calendar demonstrates that we’re not just Christian,” Tian said. “Students have different beliefs ranging from Buddhist to Muslim. Having a holiday on these days is so important to really make people feel more welcomed at school.”

This story was originally published on The Purple Tide | The Knightly News on September 26, 2022.