ICCSD officials to meet with religious leaders; calendar changes could be in effect by 2019

ICCSD officials to meet with religious leaders; calendar changes could be in effect by 2019
KCJJ Staff

Additional days off for religious holidays could be added to the Iowa City Community Schools calendar by 2019.

District equity director Kingsley Botchway told the school board on Tuesday officials plan to meet with local religious leaders soon to get a list of the most important holidays in each religion. Botchway says he hopes to have that meeting or meetings by the end of next week.

Equity intern Rachel Maller says the district cannot legally take days off for religious reasons. But Botchway says they allow individual students excused absences in such situations and try to keep the principals in the know when those days are upcoming.

“We do have a calendar right under (the regular school) calendar that speaks to multiple faiths,” Botchway said. “At times, it’s on request we put (a holy day) on there. It really helps schools in particular make sure they’re not scheduling major events in relation to these holy days.”

The possible changes come after several students – mostly Muslim – requested the district add more non-Judeo-Christian holy days to the calendar. While the district cannot take a day off for religious reasons, it can schedule a school holiday if there is an expected high number of absent students or “to embrace the pluralistic appreciation for different faiths.”

Maller says Iowa City certainly isn’t the first district to deal with this issue but there’s no consistent number for the percent of expected absent students that triggers a day off.

And while the calendar changes could theoretically be put into effect for 2019, superintendent Steve Murley says the next scheduled calendar review is in September, meaning any changes likely wouldn’t be implemented until the 2020 school year.