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Despite Separation of Church and State, Some Districts Still Celebrate Easter and Good Friday

Illustration Credit: KC Education Enterprise (using stock images by permission from 123rf)

Illustration Credit: KC Education Enterprise (using stock images by permission from 123rf)

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.

Illustration Credit: KC Education Enterprise (using stock images by permission from 13rf)

Illustration Credit: KC Education Enterprise (using stock images by permission from 13rf)

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:

Illustration Credit: KC Education Enterprise (using stock images by permission from 123rf)

Illustration Credit: KC Education Enterprise (using stock images by permission from 123rf)

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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