FCPS recognizes its Constitutional responsibilities to (1) make reasonable accommodations for students to meet their personal religious obligations; (2) ensure that it neither promotes nor discourages religion in the schools; and (3) permit student-initiated religious expression to the same extent that it permits other student speech.
While this document provides general guidelines, requests for accommodations to meet religious obligations should be given individual attention because usually each case has some specific circumstances that need to be considered.
Under the 1984 federal Equal Access Act, a secondary school that allows one or more noncurriculum related student groups to meet on school premises during noninstructional time may not deny equal access to or discriminate against students on the basis of religious, political, philosophical or other content of the speech at such meetings. Student prayer groups meeting on school property under this definition do not have to be authorized by the School Board as do school-sponsored clubs and organizations. Although the Equal Access Act applies only to our middle and high schools, other federal law extends these principles to our elementary schools.
During the noninstructional portion of the school day, students wanting to pray aloud or in the company of others may do so without advance permission in areas open to students, such as the cafeteria during lunch hours, and school grounds during class breaks and before and after school. If the students request classroom or other building space during the noninstructional portion of the school day, the request should be granted in the same way as such requests are granted for other student gatherings not related to the curriculum. The request should be directed to the principal.
During instructional time, students are expected to be in class and will not be granted permission to leave the classroom for prayer activities on school grounds, except to the extent that (1) students may be absent from class for other noncurricular activities, or (2) not excusing the student would result in a substantial burden on the student’s religious exercise. Principals should consult with the Office of Equity and Compliance (OEC) before releasing students for these reasons.
The request for building space during the school day should not be granted if it would disrupt instruction or class operations, cannot be properly supervised, cannot be accommodated at the requested time or location, or would require changes in student or school schedules. Staff members may volunteer to provide supervision of student prayer sessions but may not be required to reduce their duty free lunch period or planning time for such an additional responsibility.
If other student groups have access to certain facilities, equipment or services (e.g., bulletin boards, computers, public address system announcements, notices in the school newspaper, yearbook coverage, club fairs, flyer distribution, etc.), student prayer groups must be allowed the same access to those facilities, equipment or services.
Students who wish to use classroom space to pray after school hours must comply with school system regulations regarding school clubs or community use of facilities, in the same manner as other students requesting after-school classroom space for noncurricular activities.
Parents who want their children to leave school property for religious activities during the school day or be absent for the entire day for religious activities must put their request in writing to the principal. Such requests should generally be accommodated; however if the frequency or duration of absences would materially burden instruction, the principal may deny the request after consulting with the OEC.
Students may return to school to take their usual bus transportation home. Principals will apply the usual sign out and sign in rules when processing such requests. It is not appropriate for a teacher or administrator to question a student as to the nature of the religious activity. Parents should be informed of the student's responsibility to make up work missed during the religious absence. Teachers should provide assignments and accept makeup work in accordance with reasonable deadlines.
If parents ask to have their child excused from specific instructional activities that they feel violate their religious beliefs, teachers and principals should consult with curriculum specialists in the Instructional Services Department (ISD) to determine alternatives. Then the principal and teacher should discuss the proposed alternatives with the parents. Religious accommodations cannot include excusing students completely from courses, testing, or other activities required by state law for graduation. Requests to remove instructional materials or activities from an entire class of students must be presented according to the procedures outlined in Regulation 3009, Challenged Materials.
If you have any questions or comments about this document, please communicate with the Office of Equity and Compliance, Department of Human Resources:
Dial 711 for access to Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS)
October 12, 2011