Series: Series4000     Sub Series: 4800 MISCELLANEOUS INSTRUCTIONAL POLICIES     Policy Number: 4820
          Printer Friendly (opens in new window/tab)


RELIGION AND THE SCHOOLS


Philosophy

The District supports an understanding of and appreciation for the diversity of religions and their customs in our community and provides a respectful, understanding, welcoming, balanced, and safe environment for all.

The District recognizes the rights of students and staff to exercise their religious freedoms, of all faiths or none, in ways that are consistent with applicable judicial decisions interpreting the religion clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The First Amendment directs that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” In accordance with the Establishment Clause, the District will not endorse specific religious practices or doctrines, neither encourage nor coerce participation in religious activity.  It is the Board’s philosophy that by adhering to the principles of the Free Exercise and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, the Board promotes mutual understanding and respect for the interests and rights of all individuals in the District regardless of their religious beliefs, non-beliefs, or practices.  The District will maintain official neutrality regarding sectarian religious issues and will neither advance nor inhibit religion. Students and staff may express personal religious views or beliefs within the parameters of the law. 

The study of literature, history, music, the arts, science, ethics, and social institutions may involve discussions including religion and the impact of religious beliefs and practices. Teachers will make their best effort to represent a balanced approach, recognizing the religions represented in our school community.  The Board recognizes, however, that there will be times when a concept being taught or discussed can only be demonstrated using one or a limited number of relevant cultural or religious references.  Teachers will discuss only the educational value of such concepts. Students are instructed in a climate in which ideas can be discussed in an objective way for their educational value, with an emphasis on their impact on the literature, history, music, arts, science, ethics, and / or social institutions being studied.  This Board policy requires that the school environment be honest, respectful, caring and safe, and that diversity be recognized, accepted, and promoted through inclusive practices.

 

Instructional Practices

The Board believes that religious instruction is the responsibility of parents and religious institutions.  As a means of recognizing and valuing the diversity of our students, any instruction in the classroom must be respectful of religions that may be represented by the school community and of those students with few or no religious ties, and will give equal instructional time to all groups represented in the classroom in order to maintain an inclusive learning environment.  Teachers may teach about religion.  Teaching about religion is viewed as instructing about the impact of religion in literature, history, the arts, and other curriculum disciplines.   To ensure that the educational approach to religion is one of academic instruction, teachers must provide connections between discussions involving religion and curricular materials.

 

Opportunities may arise during curriculum discussions of religious holidays and/ or holy days while studying different cultures. Recognition of, and information about, holidays or holy days may focus on how and when they are celebrated, their origins, histories, and generally agreed upon meanings.  Comments by a student regarding his / her beliefs should be treated with respect and may be included in the lesson based upon the educational relevancy.  Presentations and activities as part of the study of religions or religious holidays/holy days should be instructional rather than celebratory.

Teachers may not promote any particular religion, or religion in general.

 

Activities in School

Holidays such as Easter, Passover, Kwanzaa, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Christmas, Ramadan, and others offer opportunities to teach students about a variety of cultural and religious traditions and beliefs of conscience held around the world during the school year. Classroom or other school parties or activities may not be in celebration of religious holidays.  While teachers and school personnel may teach about religious holidays, they may not promote a single religion.  Volunteers functioning within the District are expected to abide by this policy.  It is the responsibility of the school Principal, or his/her designee, to ensure compliance on the part of school personnel as well as volunteers. 

Teachers selecting student activities, seasonal music for study or performance, and developing lesson plans, should ask themselves the following four questions in order to ensure its appropriateness:

1.      What is the goal?

2.      Does it have a true secular, civic, or educational purpose?  What is that purpose?

3.      Does the primary effect neither advance, nor inhibit religion?

4.      Does it avoid excessive entanglement between school and religious organizations?

To ensure that the educational approach to religion is one of academic instruction, teachers should provide connections between discussions involving religion and curricular materials.  Presentations and activities as part of the age-appropriate study of religions or religious holy days should be instructional rather than celebratory.  Discussion of holy days is to include the significance and generally accepted meaning of holy days observed by a balanced number of religions, whenever possible representing those observed by students within a class in addition to others deemed appropriate by the teacher in his/her effort to ensure a broad spectrum of inclusion.  Artists invited to our schools to share their work, experiences, dance, etc. will be from diverse backgrounds and genres. 

If the content of a classroom or school activity, program, or discussion conflicts with any child’s religious beliefs, that child may be excused from the activity, upon receipt of a written request from the child’s parent that outlines the manner in which the parent will take responsibility for providing the portion of the curriculum from which the student is to be excused.  A practice of excusing students from specific activities cannot be used to justify school sponsorship of religious celebrations, worship for the remaining students, or for presenting an unbalanced educational experience in our schools.

 

Music Instruction

Music with a religious text or of a religious origin comprises a substantial portion of music.  The presentation of religious music, primarily for its musical content, literary importance, or historical value is appropriate.  Teachers will make their best effort to maintain a balanced approach, with respect for religions represented in our school community.  The Board recognizes, however, that there will be times when a concept being taught or discussed can only be demonstrated using one or a limited number of relevant cultural or religious references.  Teachers will discuss only the educational value of such concepts. The presentation of the music under circumstances that might reasonably suggest that it is being offered for devotional purposes, or as a religious celebration, is inappropriate.  Concerts, school assemblies, and other school programs may include religious and/or seasonal music and shall be balanced with respect to religions represented in our school community.  However, such activities dominated by religious music, especially coinciding with a particular religious holiday, are not appropriate. 

Art Instruction

Art with a religious theme forms a large part of the art of many cultures.  Learning about such art contributes to a student’s overall education.  The art is to be studied as part of the educational program, and not for its religious content.  Students may create religious art, but teachers may not organize the creation of religious art, in particular, if the intent is to decorate for a religious holiday.

 

Symbols and Displays

Displays of religious symbols or secular symbols commonly associated with religious holidays such as, but not limited to, the crèche, cross, and Star of David are permitted as a teaching aid or resource for a specific period of time when:

1. Teaching about religion in the classroom, and / or

2. They are intended to be a component of a building plan to teach about

    religious customs or beliefs, and/or

 

3. Their purpose is to educate about multiple cultures. 

These symbols must be treated with appropriate sensitivity.  When creating the plan for display of religious symbols the following questions must be asked in order to ensure appropriateness:

1.   What is the goal?

2.   Does it have a secular, civic, or educational purpose?  What is that purpose?

3.   Does the primary effect neither advance, nor inhibit religion?

4.   Does it avoid excessive entanglement between school and religious organizations?

 

Symbols from multiple cultures must be displayed at the same time as appropriate, or over the school year, in recognition of a variety of civic, seasonal, and/or cultural events.  The primary intent of such displays is to be educational and multi-cultural.

Celebrations

While teachers and school officials may teach about religious holidays, they may not celebrate such holidays in school.  Classroom parties may not be in celebration of religious holidays.

 

Staff and Volunteer Religious Expression

Teachers, staff, and volunteers may engage in private religious activity at work.  They may not engage in religious activities with students, or encourage or solicit student religious, or anti-religious activities.  They may not pray with students in school or when acting in their capacities as teachers or representatives of the District.  Teachers, staff, and volunteers may wear religious attire, decorations such as necklaces bearing religious symbols, but should not wear clothing or other accessories containing proselytizing messages. 

In responding to student questions regarding their personal religious beliefs and/ or practices, teachers, staff, and volunteers may choose not to respond.  If they do choose to respond, they must maintain neutrality by not advocating or encouraging acceptance of his/her religious beliefs or practices.

Volunteers are expected to abide by this and all District policies.

 

School Calendar

The school calendar shall be prepared in a way that minimizes conflict with religious holidays of all faiths.  A sincere attempt will be made not to schedule graduation, assemblies, and other special school and student events on religious holidays, or days of religious observance.  In the case of prolonged or weekly observance by a particular group represented in our community, sincere attempts will be made to rotate scheduling of such school events in order to ensure opportunities for student participation over time.  If conflicts occur, sensitivity and flexibility need to be exercised. 

The Rhinebeck Central School District ’s published calendar will note major religious holidays of importance in our community, which will be reviewed annually.

Request for Clarification

With full understanding that the issues surrounding religious diversity and the freedom of expression are deep and complex, the District is committed to reflecting upon and answering questions that are brought by students, parents, or staff.  Individual concerns, questions, or issues should be brought to the attention of the building Principal.  The Superintendent of Schools will keep the Board of Education apprised of said concerns, questions, or issues raised regarding this policy throughout the school year.

The Superintendent or designee is charged with developing Regulations in accordance with this policy.

 



District Reference:
,

General Reference:

Adoption Date:
2006-10-10

Last Revised: