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With the winter holiday season upon us, it’s important for educators in the Lawrence school district to remember the rules regarding observances, references and depictions of religious traditions in schools these days.
Bottom line: Don’t focus on any one thing or song or character when it comes to holiday happenings, history or how folks might be observing, honoring or celebrating the season.
“We’re in a position to make no preference shown for any particular religion,” said David Cunningham, the district’s director for legal services, human resources and policy. “When it comes time for the holidays, you have to be particularly careful to not focus on any one religion or tradition.”
The district permits teachers to instruct students regarding religion and religious traditions, provided it falls within “the context of the district’s curriculum.” That’s according to Lawrence school board policy IKD — Religion in Curricular or School Sponsored Activities.
Also outlined in the policy:
• “There shall be neither imposition of any particular view nor celebration of any particular religious holidays.”
• “The non-instructional display of religious symbols of any kind or of symbols connected with a religious holiday (including but not limited to any object of worship, crosses, crucifixes, Nativity scenes, menorahs, Stars of David, Islamic Crescents, Christmas trees, etc.)” shall not be sponsored by schools. “This is not intended to restrict personal religious jewelry.”
• “Religious holiday observances or celebrations” also are not to be sponsored by schools.
Those are the relevant sections of the board policy, at least in regard to holiday observances and the like.
And the district’s 900 licensed educators — teachers, counselors, librarians and others — already are plenty familiar with the rules, as are paraeducators and others who will continue educating the district’s 11,000 students up until winter break and beyond.
“I don’t get a lot of calls,” Cunningham said, “which tells me they know what they’re doing.”
Parents get out your marking pens: Standards-based grading for sixth-graders will be the subject of a report Monday night to the Lawrence school board.
Where it might lead remains to be seen.
The report will be the first opportunity for the board to formally take up the issue, which has come up with this year’s reconfiguration of schools so that sixth-graders are in middle schools rather than elementary schools.
This year’s sixth-graders are receiving both standards-based grades and typical letter grades, just as last year’s sixth-graders had been receiving in elementary schools. Standards-based grades have been used in the district’s elementary schools since 2003.
Dozens of parents and teachers, however, have objected to the district’s decision to move the grading system into middle schools, where seventh- and eighth-graders receiving only traditional letter grades: A, B, C, D and F.
Parents have brought their objections to previous board meetings, when the topic had not been scheduled for discussion or decisions. They’ve sent emails, written letters, signed petitions, met one-on-one with some board members and attended two “informational discussions” conducted by the district late last month.
Now, the topic arrives as a formal agenda item for an official board meeting: 7 p.m. Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. Mark Bradford, board president, has said that the board would address the issue during an upcoming meeting, and this one appears to be it — although the board certainly could decide to have further discussions, if necessary.
We’ll see where Monday night’s discussion leads. The agenda itself offers little indication, simply listing the item under “Old Business” and giving it a generic description: “Report from Standards Based Grading Forums,” with the report coming from Doll.
Included in the board’s agenda packet is a written report from Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer. That report recommends that administrators provide the board and the public a report by the end of the year outlining “progress” on a list of 13 “action steps,” ones outlined on a schedule that calls for various meetings involving teachers and committees and site councils and others, leading up to workshops in August and September intended to guide parents through the district’s Skyward computer system.
Is this decision time? Will the administration stick with the grading system for sixth-graders? Will critics be able to convince enough board members to scrap it altogether? Will the board appoint a committee of parents, teachers and administrators to address concerns and opportunities?
Or will board members simply listen, then decide something later — or not?
At least some of those questions are set to be answered Monday night.