Guidelines for Religious Activities
Assuring reasonable accommodations for students to meet their personal religious obligations.
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.
FCPS has one policy and two regulations that specifically relate to religion:
- Policy 1460, Religion
- Regulation 1461, Religion
- Regulation 4817, Religious Leave (for employees only)
Other governing documents are:
- Regulation 2601, Student Rights and Responsibilities, Chapter 1, section B
- Virginia State Board of Education Guidelines Concerning Religious Activity in the Public Schools (in accordance with Va. Code § 22.1-280.3)
- Equal Access Act (20 U.S.C. §§ 4071, et seq.)
- First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
- Elementary and Secondary Education Act (as amended by No Child Left Behind Act), 20 U.S.C. § 7904
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.
Religious and Cultural Observances CalendarCalendar of FCPS religious and cultural observances
Guidelines for Schools K-12
Student Requests for Accommodations for Prayer
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.
Student groups meeting for prayer must comply with the following conditions, regardless of whether they are informal gatherings or student clubs:
- meetings are voluntary and student-initiated
- the group is not sponsored by the school, the government (or its agents), or employees
- employees or agents of the school are present at meetings of the student prayer groups only in a nonparticipatory capacity for supervision purposes only
- the meeting does not materially or substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school, and
- nonschool persons do not direct, conduct, control, or regularly attend activities of the student groups.
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 Employee Relations (EER) before releasing students for these reasons.
Use of School Facilities by Student Prayer Groups
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.
Requests for Students to Leave School Property or Otherwise be Absent
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 EER.
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.
Instructional Accommodations and Nondiscrimination
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.
- Students may express their religious beliefs in homework, artwork and other oral and written assignments, subject to nondiscriminatory academic standards regarding substance, relevance, and other legitimate pedagogical concerns.
- Test Schedules - When scheduling either classroom or systemwide tests, teachers and administrators are encouraged to consider possible conflicts with religious holidays that the students in their classes may encounter. Efforts should be made to choose a schedule for tests and makeup opportunities that are reasonable under the circumstances and maximize the number of students in attendance. Teachers should let parents know of important class activities such as tests, field trips, or presentations as far in advance as possible so that potential conflicts with religious obligations can be avoided or accommodated. FCPS does not designate specific days of religious significance on which testing is prohibited.
- Student Clothing Associated with Religion - Students may wear clothing associated with their religion or containing a religious message as long as the clothing is consistent with Regulation 2613, Student Dress Code in Public Schools, or additional school guidelines established in accordance with this regulation. If there is a conflict between school guidelines and a student’s religious beliefs, the principal should explore accommodating the student’s religious beliefs. For example, no-hat rules should be modified to allow religious head coverings. In addition, clothing requirements for certain classes such as physical education may be adjusted in order to accommodate religious beliefs.
- Required Cocurricular Student Activities - Teachers and administrators for courses that require performance activities (e.g., band, theater arts, chorus) should consider accommodations for students who must miss some or all the rehearsals or performances because of religious obligations. The schedule for rehearsals and performances should be publicized as early as possible so that accommodations can be attempted. Teachers should be thoughtful in choosing performance material (song lyrics, drama themes, staging, etc.) and may excuse students from some or all the performance activity if the content conflicts with the student's religious beliefs. Students must not be penalized in their grades for meeting their religious obligations.
- Extracurricular Activities - The purpose of extracurricular activities is to offer all students opportunities to participate in the life of the school. To support this purpose, teachers, administrators, and student leaders should attempt to choose projects and schedule activities so as not to exclude or discourage some students because of their religion. Students may form and attend religious clubs in the same manner as other student-initiated clubs.
- School Level Perfect Attendance Awards - Because the free exercise of religion is a Constitutional right, schools may not withhold perfect attendance awards from students whose only absences have been excused for reasons of religion.
- Requests for Student Placements - The school system will not honor requests for placement or nonplacement of students into a class based on the teacher's race, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability.
- Decorations - One of the purposes of decorations in a school or classroom is to display student work. Seasonal decorations with religious themes that are student initiated and produced as part of the instructional program are acceptable.
- Speakers - Outside speakers who are invited to address classes on subjects related to religion must be informed about Regulation 3280, Controversial Issues, and that their presentation must be related to the instructional program of the class and to objectives in the Program of Studies (POS). The purpose of material presented must be to educate, not to proselytize. Student speeches for graduation or similar events should be reviewed and approved by the principal in advance. The principal should review any concerns about the proposed content (religious or otherwise) with the EER.