Good Friday debate not about religion

After facing years of excessive student, teacher and even bus driver absenteeism on Good Friday, the Hillsborough County School Board voted 5-2 on Tuesday to cancel future classes on that day.

The board reversed its previous position from five years ago when it ruled to have class on Good Friday – the day Christians honor the death of Jesus. The following Good Friday saw 12 percent of teachers and thousands of students staying home, attending church or even hitting the beach.

The school board acted correctly and, most importantly, realistically, to the problem of high absenteeism on this day.

Its decision has upset many who feel it amounts to religious endorsement in public schools.

“We can talk about this not being about religion,” said school board member April Griffin following the vote. “But it is about religion.”

She may be correct in one sense – this is a religious issue for many supporters. “What I see – which is something I haven’t seen in a long time – is Christians uniting,” said Jennifer Faliero, who is in favor of the change, at a school board meeting. “They are fearing that their religion is being overlooked.”

Public schools should not endorse one particular religion, and those who value this concept have reason to be concerned with the ruling.

Letting students have this day off does not have to do with religious beliefs despite the arguments on both sides.

The holiday has seemingly taken on a life of its own. This year, an estimated 42 percent of Hillsborough County students did not attend classes on Good Friday, and it’s highly unlikely they were all at church.

With the high absenteeism of students and likelihood of a squandered school day filled with movies and free time, it’s not fair to force students who attend to sit though a useless day.

For someone comfortable with the one-size-fits-all approach to separation of church and state, in which any hint of religious residue is considered unacceptable, this may be a problem.

However, when looking at the situation without bias and with consideration for the safety of students waiting for buses that may never show and money wasted on a day of nonsense, it makes sense.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, school board lawyer Tom Gonzalez said the school district cannot cancel school for religious reasons, but it can in practical situations, like excessively high student absenteeism.

It is not only practical to cancel class on Good Friday – it’s legal.

It’s not hard for many who grew up attending public school to remember themselves or others being absent on Good Friday. Students will continue to skip class on this day, as they have for years, and it is only reasonable to accept this reality and to act accordingly.

Justin Rivera is a senior majoring in history.