Driving by Liberty North High School last week, I did a double-take when I noticed the sign announcing students would have Friday, March 29, off for Easter Break. Yes, despite the constitutional separation of church and state, public school districts are still allowed to give students a day off for the religious holiday. However, most who do grant the day off call it something like “Spring Break,” “Vacation Day” or simply “No School.”
And a survey of the 28 public school districts in the Kansas City metropolitan area shows that almost half dispensed with a holiday and held classes on Good Friday.
Although it is illegal for schools — as government institutions — to endorse any religion, laws still allow them to close on days when the majority of students would be absent due to celebration of a religious holiday. In addition, the absence of many Christian teachers might make it difficult to provide a safe school environment.
My Education Law textbook explains it this way in a discussion of whether schools can legally close for religious holidays such as Christmas:
The same reasoning might apply to Easter, but the issue is moot because schools are closed on Sundays anyway. Structuring the school calendar around other religious holidays is more problematic. The safe-environment argument might apply to any holiday that most teachers would take anyway. Also, closing school on any day that the state has declared a legal holiday is probably permissible. A federal district court in Hawaii upheld a state law that made Good Friday a legal (and school) holiday, saying that Good Friday had the same constitutional standing as Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, the Seventh Circuit reached the opposite conclusion and specifically rejected the argument that Good Friday was like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Good Friday, said the court, “is a day of solemn religious observance, and nothing else, for believing Christians, and no one else.”
Fifteen local districts did close schools on Good Friday:
- Basehor-Linwood calls it a “Vacation Day.”
- Belton closed both Thursday and Friday in observance of “Easter and Good Friday.”
- Bonner Springs/Edwardsville calls it “Good Friday.”
- Excelsior Springs calls it “Spring Break.”
- Fort Osage calls it “No School.”
- Grandview calls it “No School.”
- Hickman Mills calls it “No School.”
- Independence calls it “Other Observances: March 29.”
- Kansas City, Missouri calls it “Spring Break.”
- Lansing calls it “Student-Staff Vacation.”
- Lee’s Summit calls it “No School.”
- Liberty calls it “Easter Break.”
- Platte County calls it “Spring Break.”
- Raymore-Peculiar calls it “Good Friday.”
- Raytown calls it “Spring Break.”
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