Religious Exemptions

Prevailing+world+religions+map

Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license

Prevailing world religions map

Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School offers a number of holidays off from school. While time off is a great thing, there is a discrepancy in which religious holidays are observed. Currently, Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School is not in session on both Christmas and Good Friday; however, the school remains open on some of the most religious holidays for Muslims and Jews, like Ramadan, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah. 

Earlier in the fall, on Monday, September 30, roughly 1% of students and faculty were absent for the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. While teachers are not allowed to give exams on Jewish holidays, the school also did not cancel classes. The holidays are supposed to be days free of work and stress. Even though an absence is excused, for religious observance, those absent are still required to complete the missed work and catch up on what was taught that day. Having to worry about makeup work on a holiday is stressful and difficult. 

Jewish student Sophie Bendoris (Class of 2021), said, “It is annoying that we don’t have the holidays off because I have a bunch of makeup work to do while no one else does.” 

Roughly one-third of schools in Essex County, such as Swampscott High School and Beverly High School, have the Jewish holidays off. However, this was not the case with schools like Manchester-Essex or Hamilton Wenham Regional High School. 

Chart showing the percentage of Jewish students and schools with the holidays. Data is from WorldPopulationReview.com

When asked whether these days had ever been given off, Principal Eric Tracy said, “In the past 7 years I have been here, we never had those days off.” However, it is not up to the principal. The fact is, the school committee determines the district calendar; any changes must be discussed and voted upon. 

Regardless of whether or not the calendar is changed, religion should at least be considered when planning school events. For example, this year, the high school make-up picture day was scheduled on Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Day. Later, the administration changed this because of the feedback from Jewish students and families in the area. Although little adjustments like this can be made, the ideal situation is that the adjustments never need to occur.

As Thanksgiving break comes and goes, students at HWRHS as constantly thinking about the next holiday they have off from school, but the question remains, what determines that time off and for whom does it apply?