Posted on Fri, Mar. 14, 2003
District's interfaith calendar dropped
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
A Grapevine-Colleyville school district initiative to increase religious sensitivity through an interfaith calendar has evaporated under fear of controversy and other pressures.
With the district enterprise shelved, a community group has developed its own calendar, which it recently distributed to teachers and principals. The group, Community Religious Leaders, hopes to help teachers avoid conflicts.
The calendar "is just information that helps people understand what days are important," said group member Carol Record, a minister of the nondenominational Unity Church of Northeast Tarrant County in Grapevine. "This is a broadening experience."
The community effort will accomplish the goal of raising awareness without the district appearing to endorse or approve any religion, school board President Tim Raine said.
"The issue of how many religions and which ones are shown on such a calendar is not without controversy," he said. "I believe utilizing [Community Religious Leaders'] expertise, sensitivity and judgment ... is the best path for us."
To others, it appears as if the district lacks the backbone to support something it championed less than a year ago.
Complaints last year about scheduling major events on non-Christian religious holidays and other sensitivity concerns motivated the school district's Diversity Advisory Committee to create a list of important religious holidays, which was distributed to staff, parents, students and teachers. In April, the school board applauded the advisory committee's efforts.
"We have a diversity council who took a position, and the school district somewhat adopted that position," Trustee John Eubanks said last week. "Then, we turn around and for some reason we move to the [religious leaders group]. When ... committees work on something and then you don't follow their advice, you have messed up."
Superintendent Kevin Singer disagreed, saying the calendar creation was always meant to be a fluid process.
"If you change over time and you say you are going to change, to me that is not stepping back," he said. "I would ask you why does the district's name need to be on [the calendar]. It meets its purpose -- to be a tool for teachers."
The Community Religious Leaders calendar is mainly drawn from the Diversity Advisory Committee's original. The calendar, which includes 43 holidays, has not been given to parents or students or put online but will be given to school-related organizations.
"The calendar should be more inclusive to reflect the student body," committee member Susan Barzelay said. "It is certainly more vague now."
Eight Bahai, five Christian, three Hindu, one Islamic, 15 Jewish, two Orthodox Christian, one Roman Catholic and eight Wiccan holidays are included in the calendar. Public schools cannot ask for a student's religious preference.
In September, some residents criticized the district for holding a football game on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. The game was scheduled despite the holiday's inclusion on the district's calendar. With the removal of the school district's name from the calendar, it cannot be held accountable for which holidays are listed, district officials said.
"I don't want to offend anyone. That's not the role of the district," Singer said. As for why the calendar is not being sent to students and parents, he said, "The district doesn't need to communicate to the individual. The message goes to the classroom teacher."
While the district does an admirable job of respecting individual religious freedoms -- such as by working with students who observe religious holidays -- there is a failure to disseminate the information, said Jason Cohen, 16, a Jewish student at Colleyville Heritage High School.
"They promise to send out an e-mail or a letter. But our district has a history of saying things and then not doing them," he said. He doubted that a religious calendar -- whether district-sanctioned or not -- would get distributed to everyone.
"Some teachers don't know and others don't care," Cohen said. "I can't blame them because nobody makes a big deal about it."
While not an official district committee, the Community Religious Leaders advisory group is organized by the Grapevine-Colleyville district. The group, which plans to meet up to six times this school year, has also discussed subjects such as visitor policies, the budget, sex education and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The concerns raised by the district -- appearing to endorse a religion and complaints about what days are on a calendar -- have not been major challenges in some public school districts. The Dallas school district has published an interfaith calendar for years with few complaints, officials said.
Fort Bend school officials say few phone calls are received over dates included or excluded on their calendar, which is handed out in newsletters. Fort Bend, which is near Houston, has about 59,000 students.
"We let people who call know that the holidays are based on the student groups represented in the district," said Karen Miles, a spokeswoman for the Fort Bend district. Officials base the calendar on the ethnic groups and languages spoken in the district.
Raine said that what other districts do is irrelevant.
"Personally, I am not overly concerned about what others do regarding this," he said. "I am more concerned about what is best for our district."
Grapevine-Colleyville Trustee Charlie Warner said he is not familiar with the issue, adding that he trusts Singer will bring it before the board before too long.
Trustee Nancy Coplen said she supported the superintendent on the issue. "The statement he comes out with will be the one I agree with," she said.
The goal of getting such information to the students may now be more difficult to achieve, said Mike Collins, Diversity Advisory Committee chairman.
"If it doesn't get to the students, then it's certainly not as effective," he said. "Now I would rely on the faculty and staff to help educate the students."
These Web sites, compiled by the district, have information on interfaith calendars or examples:
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