Update on Good Friday School Attendance Controversy

empty classroom (620-220)It came to our attention last week that many Texas school districts, including several in the DFW and Houston areas, made Good Friday an official makeup day for a previous bad weather day. We also received information indicating that some school districts, at least initially, were threatening to give students an “unexcused” absence for not attending school on Good Friday. Further, we have been informed about concerns of school districts specifically requesting a program or “documentation of participation” of how a student chose to exercise their holy day observance, if a student seeks to be “excused.”

As an organization dedicated to protecting the religious liberties of Texans, we quickly took action to educate school districts, parents, and the media that Texas law protects the observance of religious holy days, like Good Friday, for our students and requires school districts to “excuse” the absence. And we expressed concern that Good Friday, an important holy day for millions of Christians in Texas, would be used as a makeup day to begin with. It looks like many Texans agreed with us in our concern.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, whose district includes the Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD, spoke out strongly on the issue, and we heard from many parents and Texas Values supporters from around the state expressing concern. Reports now indicate that many parents chose to keep their children home on Good Friday. The Houston Chronicle notes that some schools in the Houston ISD saw fewer than 5 percent of students attend on Good Friday.

With students now back in school after Easter, we want to ensure, once again, that all Texas students and parents are clear about their religious liberty rights so that no student is incorrectly given an unexcused absence. Texas Education Code 25.087(b)(1)(A) states that:

b) a school district shall excuse a student from attending school for:

(1) the following purposes, including travel for those purposes:

(A) observing religious holy days;

If your student chose to observe Good Friday and not attend school, the school district must excuse the absence. And Texas law has no requirement that students must provide “documentation” of how they observed the religious holiday. Texas law further states that a student may not be penalized for that absence, shall be allowed a reasonable time to make up school work, and if the student satisfactorily completes the school work, the day of absence shall be counted as a day of compulsory attendance.

We sincerely hope that you and your family had a great Easter weekend celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope to be helpful in clearing up any confusion about Texas law and religious holidays at public schools. If Texas Values can be of further assistance to you, don’t hesitate to contact us. We believe religious liberty is a precious right of all Texans, and we are committed to fight for your ability to exercise that right.

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