Last week, several community members voiced their concerns with the School Committee over a set of policies relating to school work on religious holidays.
A proposed policy update sought to tweak a policy introduced two years ago that prohibited teachers from issuing tests or homework on religious holidays.
Several parents and students told the board that this policy had been enforced inconsistently, and that other activities, such as tryouts for sports teams, still were being held on religious holidays such as Yom Kippur.
There was also consternation by members of the audience with comments comparing any content missed by students during a religious holiday to content missed while a student was sick.
Westford Academy Senior Hannah Rosenstein said most of the time her teachers respected the policy, but it wasn’t universal. In particular, she told the board that she had teachers who advised her to copy classroom notes from friends on lectures given during religious holidays.
“I do expect from teachers more sensitivity,” said Rosenstein. “I don’t expect teachers to cater to everybody’s need. But a religious holiday mandates them coming to me.”
Parents also expressed concerns about a bias toward Christian holidays, citing that a professional development session had been placed on Good Friday, leading Westford schools to treat that as a half-day, while students were not being given time off on Jewish holidays.
School Committee member David Keele noted that these concerns stemmed from a larger concern with overburdening students with too much needless homework and extremely high expectations, which parents in attendance at the meeting were largely in agreement with.
Overall, the School Committee was unsure if a policy could be crafted that would please everyone, but the board still held a shared desire to address the problem.
“We’re all on the same page,” said School Committee Chairman Arthur Benoit. “We understand that this exists, we need to be fair and equitable to everyone. The first cut didn’t make it and that’s why we’re back here again.”
During the discussion, the creation of a cultural committee intended to examine this and other issues related to multi-culturalism in Westford schools, was met positively by members of the board, members of the audience and School Department Superintendent Bill Olsen.
All three policies had their first hearing at the meeting, with School Committee policy requiring a second hearing before any action is taken.
It is unclear when the second hearing for the policies was set to occur, but members of the board indicated that they could potentially take place before summer recess or during meetings in August prior to the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.