On Friday, students in Florida’s Hillsborough County School District had the day off from school for Good Friday, no matter what religious faith they practiced.

It’s the last time they will have Good Friday off as a districtwide day off from school.

As part of the ongoing struggle in schools across the country on how to respect holy days of all religions, the Hillsborough school district, which encompasses the city of Tampa, came up with its own solution.

It has eliminated all religious holidays starting with the 2007-2008 school year.

Like school districts in so many parts of the country, Hillsborough County has tried to accommodate its diverse student body.

“We, like many districts, have had Christian holidays for years and years,” said Steve Hegarty, a communications officer for Hillsborough County. Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, was added a few years ago, he says.

Fair to All Faiths

“Last year, a group of Muslims asked for a day off too,” Hegarty said. The school board decided: “Let’s go for a calendar that’s fair to all faiths.”

The controversy began in 2004, when a group of Muslims made a request to the school board to coincide days off with two major Muslim holidays, like the board had done with Jewish and Christian holidays for years. The school board said it would consider the request.

Thinking it was coming up with a calendar that would work for its students, Hillsborough looked carefully at holiday schedules as it planned the 2007-2008 school calendar.

Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday, and Yom Kippur both fall on Saturdays this year, so no additional days off would be needed. The board decided not to give Good Friday as a day off next year.

“We were hoping the district would accommodate us,” said Ahmed Bedier of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “We never wanted anyone to lose their days. We were just hoping to be included.”


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