In an effort to help schools address this perennial December dilemma, the California 3Rs Project offers the following advice drawn from Finding Common Ground: A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools and consensus guidelines endorsed by a broad range of religious and educational organizations.
The key distinction for educators to keep in mind is between teaching about religious holidays, which is constitutionally permissible, and celebrating religious holidays which is not. When planning activities related to religious holidays, school leaders and teachers should ask the following questions: Does this activity in any way promote or inhibit religion?
How does this activity serve the academic goals of the course or educational mission of the school?
Will any student or parent be made to feel like an outsider, not a full member of the school/classroom community by this activity?
Does the teacher or school plan activities to teach about religious holidays at various times of the year or only in December?
Is the instruction accomplished in such a manner that information about the religious meaning of the holiday is aligned to California Content Standards and enriches student understanding of history and culture.
Teaching about religious holidays should focus on how and when they are celebrated, their origins, histories and generally agreed upon meanings. A fair and balanced curriculum will include study about a variety of religious and cultural traditions throughout the school year -- not just in December. Teachers and administrators should remember that under the First Amendment they may not use the study about religious holidays as an opportunity to proselytize or otherwise inject personal religious beliefs into the discussion.
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