A teachers' union is suing a Rhode Island school district over the claim that 200 Christian teachers were denied requests to take Good Friday off from work, with the union claiming that the decision denies educators the two religious days that they are afforded in their contract.
The Cranston Teachers’ Alliance sued the Cranston School Department in Providence Superior Court earlier this month after the reported denial, claiming that district violated the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act, the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, according to WPRI-TV.
The 2014-2015 school year is the first time in recent memory that officials scheduled classes during both Good Friday and the Jewish holidays — a dynamic that unfolded, in part, over concerns about fitting additional snow days into the schedule and a need to fill the academic calendar, the Providence Journal reported.
Lizbeth Larkin, president of the Cranston Teachers' Alliance, told the outlet that the calendar decision was made last June amid concerns over giving days off for the Jewish holidays so soon after the start of the school year. But after those days off were rescinded, Good Friday was also added in as a day of instruction, she said.
"I wish they had not opened school on the Jewish Holy days and Good Friday, but since they made that decision they should not be telling Christians of all denominations that Good Friday is not important enough to merit a religious leave day," Larkin said in a statement, calling for the district to respect employees' religious rights.
The district has countered, though, that the decision to hold classes on Good Friday is rooted in a calendar that was set nine months ago, according to a statement given to WPRI-TV.
"Teachers, teacher assistants, technical assistants and bus aides have the provision in their contracts to request up to two religious observance days," it read. "The contractual language states, they may be granted the day off if their, 'religious observance obligations require attendance at religious services held during the school day.'"
With the contract providing two paid personal days, Larkin told the Providence Journal that she initially informed educators that they would be able to take time off, despite the district's decision to hold classes.
While there were reportedly no issues granting days off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, around 200 people requesting Good Friday off were asked to provide documentation surrounding how they planned to celebrate.
Larkin claimed that these individuals were later denied, with some speculating that the availability of Good Friday services in the evening and after classes meant that teachers didn't need the day off to celebrate, the Providence Journal reported.
A hearing will take place to address the legal issue on March 30.
This isn't the first time the district has landed in the headlines over religious issues. Teen atheist Jessica Ahlquist successfully fought for the removal of a prayer mural that was once hung in her high school in Cranston back in 2012. A judge eventually ruled in the student’s favor, mandating that the sign be taken down, as it was dubbed a violation of the separation of church and state.
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