Wilmington Friends School Holy Day Policy

Nick Urick '18

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As the holiday season approaches, the students of Wilmington Friends School will celebrate a variety of occasions that honor their individual religions. Although the upcoming season is often a time of comfort and joy, it also can be a time of social controversy. As a Quaker School, Wilmington Friends and its population conjointly hold equality as a strong value. Yet, there has been recent debate on whether or not the WFS Holy Day policy truly honors all religious holidays on an equal level. The Friends community encompasses a variety of religious traditions and therefore it is quite important to truly recognize equality within the school population.

Currently, the Wilmington Friends School Holy Day Policy document officially lists a variety of holidays, yet only applies work exceptions to a select amount of the days that are celebrated. These holidays include Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, Good Friday, Passover and Easter. Many other holidays are listed but lack work exceptions for students who celebrate them. Some of these are Ramadan, Sukkot, Diwali, and Chinese New Year. These holidays are all celebrated in time periods when schooling is in session, yet are not recognized or observed on the same level as other major religious holidays. During a conversation about this issue, Ajala Elmore ’20, a Muslim student at Friends commented, “I think that our school should honor Quaker values and celebrate all holidays equally. On Muslim holidays, we still have homework and therefore do not acknowledge them on the same levels as we do others. I think that we should either be all inclusive of holidays or not observe them at all.” Elmore’s comment raises an essential point of inclusivity. As mentioned, Quaker schools value equality, therefore this should realistically apply to the ways in which we observe holidays, regardless of their time period or religious application.

The idea of full inclusivity versus full exclusivity has been a popular one thus far. Ruth Hazzard ’19 corroborated ok, saying, “I really think that it is important that we evaluate the ways that we honor religious holidays at Friends. It isn’t fair that those practicing Islam or Hinduism should have to do homework in the midst of celebration, while Catholic, Christian, and Jewish students generally do not share the same obligation. I have noticed that the policy does state that students can miss school or refrain from completing homework on their personal holidays, but this is difficult to actually implement as it sets students behind.” Hazzard clearly voiced a strong opinion on this topic and raised some very important points. The Holy Day Policy document at Friends does state that students celebrating particular holidays may refrain from completing work, but students are often hesitant to do so in fear of becoming behind in their classes. WFS offers a very rigorous course load, which makes it difficult to miss work unless the whole class is exempt. Thus, the Holy Day policy does seem to make certain holidays a bit easier to celebrate than others, for students at Friends. Many other students at Friends commented that they felt that the easiest way to resolve this was to implement an ‘all or none’ policy. Carter Gramiak ’21 commented that “It’s important that we hold some sort of standard in this type of situation. While I enjoy the holidays that we do honor now, it is important to integrate the holidays of perhaps less represented groups into our policies. That is the only way to essentially ‘level the playing field’ and if that is not possible, we might have to exclude all observation of holidays which occur on weekdays, in order to remain consistent with our values of equality.” Thus, the inequality issue within the Holy Day policy remains under debate, yet surrounded by diligent interest from the student body.

Other students at Friends feel that the current listed policies are as fair as possible. It is important to note that it is difficult to integrate all holidays into the Holy Day policy, as the school does hold a college preparatory curriculum, and thus must avoid missing valuable days of work. The current policy once again states that some families do celebrate holidays that are not listed as observed, and that teachers should refrain from assigning work on those days if there is another applicable due date. Nonetheless, this possibility remains difficult to exercise as many teachers already have their coursework scheduled, making any changes difficult to successfully implement. During a conversation on this topic, Carson Davis-Tinnell ’19 commented, “It is fair to give students off of school or schoolwork for the current major holidays that are observed. We work to honor the Christian/Catholic holidays, as well as Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah and Yom Kippur. Although we technically are off of school at the time of Christian and Catholic holidays, this does not present inequality since our breaks at the time are not intended to be specifically for those holidays. I think it would be great to integrate more holidays into our policies, but I understand the difficulty that comes with that process.” Clearly, Davis-Tinnell maintained a solid view on both sides of the issue.

The Holy Day Policy is one that remains disputed at the moment. It will be interesting to see the ways in which the administration replies to such challenges. It seems to be the hope of many students that these policies will soon be revised to be a bit more inclusive, yet the difficulty associated with this process is recognized. Wilmington Friends school works hard to honor as many holidays as are logistically possible, as well as provides students with the opportunity to celebrate their specific holidays independently.

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