School calendar has no religion

Published February 21, 2007

TAMPA - The Hillsborough School Board appears ready to embrace a calendar with no days off for religious holidays, including Good Friday.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and a strong majority of School Board members said Tuesday they are comfortable with a 2007-08 school calendar that eliminates days off coinciding with Good Friday, the Monday after Easter and the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

School Board members also said the time may have come to end Fair Day, a traditional day off that allows students to attend the state fair.

A final vote is scheduled for Tuesday, which means the community has time to weigh in. Last year, the approval of a secular calendar sparked an outcry like nothing seen in recent years, leading a majority of the School Board to reverse its vote and restore the religious holidays.

"Common sense tells you this is not going to sit well with both Christians and people who looked at that time as a traditional time to be with family," said David Caton, executive director of the Florida Family Association, which lobbied hard against the secular calendar last year.

Like Caton, many of the people who sent more than 3,500 e-mails on the calendar last year blamed Muslims for taking away established Judeo-Christian holidays. The move to a secular calendar followed a request by the Muslim community for a day off for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

This year's debate was complicated by a new state law requiring schools to start no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day. Hillsborough wants to squeeze in a full semester between Aug. 20 and the start of winter break on Dec. 24.

This limits the number of days students can take off in the fall, which includes the major Jewish and Muslim holidays.

Elia plans to make final recommendations by Friday.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com.