photo students in classroom

MCPS Publishes a Guideline On Respecting Religious Diversity

Montgomery County Public Schools has published for the first time a set of guidelines on respecting religious diversity.

backtoschoolphoto2The document, which touches upon absences, clothing, food, and extracurricular activities, was developed in partnership with the Montgomery County Executive’s Faith Community Working Group.

“It provides information regarding religious practices and providing accommodation to students,” said Montgomery County Public Schools spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala.

Onijala said the faith community, MCPS staff, parents, and students were working together for “quite some time” to develop a clear set of guidelines and information to residents “because we have such a diverse student population.”

Besides English, the document has been translated to Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Amharic, Farsi, Arabic, Chinese, and Korean.

On June 10, Onijala said, school officials, parents, students, and members fo the faith community gathered at a forum to discuss a draft of the guide before publication.

“We wanted to ensure all of our students are valued and respected,” she said.

photo students in classroomThe document also has a quick reference guide with frequently asked questions about some of the most important topics. Then it takes the reader into more detailed information about absences for religious holidays, prayer and religious dress, food, and religion in school assignments.

“If a student needs to miss a day due to a religious holiday …we are to make accommodations for them. The student ought to not be penalized for the absence,” Onijala said.

To Rev. Mansfield Kaseman, interfaith community liaison at the Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships, creating this guideline was an opportunity to learn about the different communities in the county.

“It’s important that we do whatever we can to get to know each other better and understand each other’s faith and traditions. … One of the reasons why we have this diversity in Montgomery County is because of the high quality of public education, so parents come here in order to make sure their children have the best education in the world and they don’t want to jeopardize that in any way,” Kaseman said.

To learn about MCPS’s Guidelines For Respecting Religious Diversity, click here.

Below, read the quick reference guide posted online:

Frequently Asked Questions
Are students’ absences excused for observances of religious holidays?
YES. Families must follow all of the regular procedures to report and document absences. Please see the Absences for Religious Holidays section of these guidelines for further information.

Can students make up work due to absences for religious holidays?
YES.
Families should work with their child’s school to arrange for making up work. Please see the Absences for Religious Holidays section of these guidelines for more detailed information.

Can students pray during the school day?
YES, under certain circumstances. Please see the Prayer and Religious Dress section of these guidelines for more specific information.

Can students wear clothing associated with their religion?
YES. Students may wear scarves, hijabs, yarmulkes, patkas, or other clothing associated with their religion in accordance with MCPS regulations and policies. Please see the Prayer and Religious Dress section of these guidelines for more specific information.

Can religious topics be discussed in school assignments?
YES.
Students may express their religious beliefs or nonbelief in school assignments as long as their expressions meet the assignment’s requirements, are relevant to the topic, and follow the other guidelines discussed in this guide. In addition, objective and factual lessons about religion in literature, history, and the arts may be part of the MCPS curriculum. Please see the Religion in the Instructional Program section of these guidelines for further information.

Do schools accommodate students’ religion-related dietary restrictions?
YES. Schools regularly work with students who may have religion-related dietary restrictions. Please see the Food and Religious Observancesection of these guidelines for more information.

Can students distribute religious informational materials?
YES. Students may distribute religious materials on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute other informational material unrelated to school activities. Students must follow school rules about where, when, and how materials are distributed. Please see the Distributing Religious Informational Materials section of these guidelines for more information.

Are religious extracurricular clubs allowed in schools?
YES. Students have a right to organize religion-related extracurricular clubs or assemble and conduct religious meetings, prayer groups, or other observances of religious practices during noninstructional time, on the same basis as other extracurricular student groups that are not related directly to a subject taught in school. These religion-related extracurricular meetings or clubs must be student led. For more information and specific guidance, please see the Extracurricular Student Religious Activities section of these guidelines.

Aline Barros

About Aline Barros

Aline Barros is a multimedia reporter and community engagement specialist with Montgomery Community Media. She can be reached at Abarros@mymcmedia.org and on Twitter at @AlineBarros2.

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