Reasonable Accommodation

September 20, 2008 at 12:05 am
filed under Connecting
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I have mixed feelings today. I am an empty tree, today.

An Empty Tree from Garrowby Hill by tricky ™ on flickr

An Empty Tree from Garrowby Hill by tricky ™ on flickr

According to my collective agreement (of teachers of the school board where I work) if I want to take days off for religious reasons I need to request the days from my school board. Apparently this rule began last year, my first year at the board. Which I did. And after a few emails back and forth with human resources I was told that I would receive an official letter about the holidays, and that it would entail some kind of arrangement that would not result in loss of salary. Which I received. Today. That letter was somewhat different. The official notice is that yes, I am granted the leave, however I must make myself available for emergency substitution or another arrangement with my principal to make up the time I am taking off.

To me, that does not sound like leave without loss of salary.

I showed the letter to the head teacher in my department who was angry. Who went to speak to an administrator (not the principal, he wasn’t in) about it because he felt it unfair. Wrong. He walked away from the administrator in reaction to a statement about multiculturalism and how we can not accommodate everyone in a multi-cultural society.

My logical reaction – and by logical I mean the reaction that came from my head and not my heart – was this letter that I wrote this evening:

I received your letter regarding my request for leave to observe the Jewish high holidays and I must say that I am left feeling confused, insulted, and disappointed.

My confusion comes from the inconsistency of how the school board has granted such leave during my 2 years here. Last year I made the same request and was granted the leave to observe my holidays without having to make up the time. This year, while I have indeed been given the permission to not report to work on those days, I am expected to make myself available for emergency substitution or other work in order to make up the time you are granting me to observe the holidays, keeping in mind that these are not minor holidays, they are the most important holidays of the Jewish religion. Last week you wrote me an email that the requests would be granted without loss of salary, however being asked to work extra time entails that this leave is actually unpaid.

I feel insulted that, as a teacher who regularly arrives to work at or around 7:00 each morning and very rarely leaves before 5:00 pm, sometimes as late as 6:00 or later, I am being asked to make up time missed so that I can observe my holidays. Indeed, I am not able to fulfil the make-up time commitment as I spend my time at school, including recess, lunch time, and after school, with my students.

I understand that our collective agreement does not automatically allow us leave for religious holidays as perhaps it has in years past, however I do not understand the logic or compassion of the school board’s position on the matter.

The word that best sums up my feelings about this matter is disappointment,

Tracy Rosen

My gut reaction, however, was shaky. When I first read the letter from the school board I felt…wrong. Wrong for being Jewish. I felt that I needed to defend the reasons for the holidays. And I felt wrong that I felt I needed to defend my Jewishness. As I write this that wrongness is coming back to me and I feel emotional. I feel that the school board is being petty, and I also feel that I am being petty. The wrongness is attached to a feeling of being told that my religion, my culture is a privilege, an extra-curricular activity like a vacation. And it is attached to me feeling ashamed about that, feeling shame that maybe I am asking for something unreasonable. Feeling the need to defend how much energy and how many hours I put into my job as if that makes up for the fact that I am asking for time off to be true to my religious culture. And attached to the fact that my head teacher felt the unfairness before I did. For real.

I shared my responses – both logical and gut – with a colleague of mine who is in the same situation. He is livid. He is ready to go see our principal on Monday morning and put his job on the line. He says he refuses to be put on the bottom of the totem pole because of his religion. That unfairness and tolerance (Don’t tolerate me, just accept me) is not acceptable. That he refuses to be put into the situation where every year he has to beg for time off for a religious holiday and then work extra hours to make up for it. That by not fighting these things Jews (and others) have been persecuted and prosecuted (hated and killed) over centuries.

I love my job. I hate these feelings that this response from my school board has brought up in me.

I have mixed feelings and I feel shaky. My head hurts.
I feel like an empty tree.

15 comments

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  1. sweetleaf

    on September 20, 2008 at 1:51 am

    maybe it is a chance to make adversity a path of awakening? find freedom from probing and testing. for balance try not to be hypersensitive, for addressing imbalance practice whats important now. (this is from a print out i have above my sink)
    i dunno tracy, i have always heard the teachers worst nightmare is the administration? could this be an issue of ethics? it can’t be that complicated to accommodate individual teachers for different religious observations. it’s not rocket science, but a matter of scheduling.
    “let even the remedy release naturally to awaken to what is apparently true”. don’t forget to breath…

  2. Tracy

    on September 20, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Thanks for your comment sweetleaf. It is such a touchy subject for me. My colleague summed it up quite well last night when he said, ‘don’t make me put my Jewishness under the microscope for my job.’
    ick.

    You’re right – not rocket science, just human-ness, compassion.

  3. Damian

    on September 20, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    There’s really no excuse for this. I happen to work in a district where our Jewish population is large enough to warrant closing school on the High Holy Days, but even when schools are open on the holidays (like the district where I grew up, where there were practically no Jewish folks), Jewish students & faculty just don’t come to school. It’s excused; there’s no need to make up time.

    My wife and children are Jewish, and I know that if our employer or my kids’ teachers refused to accommodate our observance… well, honestly, I can’t even see it happening so I can’t say what I’d do. Probably try to reason with them (how’d they like to come to work on Christmas?), but I can see the situation deteriorating pretty quickly from there. It beggars belief.

    Is there a local chapter of the JDL or some kind of ACLU equivalent in your region of Canadia? Ages ago, my father-in-law once got some similar BS from his employer, and a call to the JDL (who subsequently contacted his employer) straightened it out REAL quick.

    Keep us updated.

    Damians last blog post at http://apaceofchange.edublogs.org..Team Tommy Needs You

  4. Damian

    on September 20, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    PS:

    “…we can not accommodate everyone in a multi-cultural society.”

    Fuck you very much, Mr./Ms. Administrator-Who’s-Not-The-Principal. Seriously. It’s not like you’re asking for Christian children’s blood to make Passover matzohs, it’s a day away from work to observe a holiday. This is NOT an unreasonable request.

    Was this administrator above or below your principal on the hierarchical ladder? If it’s a VP, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. In fact, I’d demand an apology after your principal realizes what a shitheel this person is being and grants you your days off. If it’s a superintendent or HR manager or something like that, then I’d consider looking to external resources like the JDL.

    Another question: do you have a teacher’s union at your school? I don’t know if there’s anything in your current contract language that specifically deals with religious holidays that don’t fall on the school’s calendar, but there should be.

    I guess the worst case scenario is that you take sick or personal days on the holidays. I think it would really suck to lose 2 sick days this early in the year, but at least that way they can’t force you to make up the time. Despite the unfairness of it, I’d probably sooner do that than enter into some ridiculous make-up time scheme.

    (Feel free to mod/edit profanity as necessary).

    Damians last blog post at http://apaceofchange.edublogs.org..Team Tommy Needs You

  5. Elona Hartjes

    on September 20, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    I can’t imagine that response. My school is very multicultural and staff do take various religious holidays with no problem. In fact, we have a calendar/poster that celebrates all the different religions that we are encouraged to put up in our classroom. I have not heard of anyone having to make up the time. I think that’s something that your association needs to address in your next contract.

  6. Tracy

    on September 21, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Nope. No editing.

    The decision to have us make up time came from our school board’s human resources department.

    I’m planning to speak with my principal on Monday morning. And will start to consider action after that conversation.

    It seems I needed to hear other perspectives to put my own into perspective. It is so difficult to distance myself from this in a way that I can be clear headed about my visceral reaction.

    There is a Canadian JDL, as well as other organizations.

    Even if my principal does agree to not make us make up time there is a larger issue dealing with school board policy regarding religious observance. Do we deserve to do this ridiculous dance every year?

    We do have a teacher’s union. Apparently we agreed (before I started at the school) to a policy that does not automatically allow us religious holidays (except, of course, for those of the Christian persuasion). We need to request the time off and it is up the board’s discretion to if and how they will honour the request.

    So much to think about.

  7. Tracy

    on September 21, 2008 at 11:14 am

    I agree Elona. I’m not sure how often our collective agreement is renegotiated. In my last school it was every 5 years. This particular decision was made 1 year ago.

    I think that this whole issue is entangled with Quebec’s Reasonable Accommodation issue. This may mark a difference between Quebec and Ontario. I need to learn more about it.

    The school board, apparently, is not legally bound to offer religious leave at all. I’m upset that this has become a ‘legal’ issue as opposed to a human issue. We teach about diversity and respect, about fair and equal being different concepts. Yet there seems to be a misalign with the system where we teach those principles.

  8. sweetleaf

    on September 22, 2008 at 12:45 am

    i’m trying out the reply button here…see how it works.
    i feel your emotion. i can’t help but know you’re in the right.
    it is “them” and “their” policy(?) that needs to be under the microscope here.
    your request is a request for all religions for all cultures.

  9. sweetleaf

    on September 22, 2008 at 1:07 am

    actually there shouldn’t have to be a “request”, (which denotes a weirdness), it should be a matter of simple, uncomplicated, notification…for practical purpose.

  10. Hugh O'Donnell

    on September 25, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Tracy, I grew up in New York. Long Island, to be exact. Jewish holidays were days off school even for us Catholic kids. For teachers, for everyone.

    This issue is too important to react to with frustration or anger. We who agree that religious obligations must be observed without penalty in the school system need to hang together and share what our districts do and how we can influence humane policy with regard to our obligations religious obligations.

    As a school board member, I’m sensitive to issues that may have fallen between the proverbial cracks. I’ll check this out in my district and report back.

    Hugh O’Donnells last blog post at [site]..Happy Camper!

  11. Tracy

    on September 25, 2008 at 5:55 am

    Thank you Hugh. I am getting nowhere with my union. Any extra research on this will help.

  12. Hugh O'Donnell

    on September 26, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Tracy, I checked with our (Hillsboro School Distict1J) human resources folks who informed me that we expect teachers who observe religious holidays to use their (one) personal day, and if additional time is required, it is granted, by admin (the board stays out of it), as leave without pay. There is never any hassle about whether or not unpaid leave with be granted for Jewish holidays.

    Classified staff have no personal days in their contract. We just finished bargaining with the classified union, and the issue never came up.

    I just spoke with the policy people at Portland Public Schools (largest in the state of Oregon), and their accommodations are the same, except that Portland teachers have three personal days, so they probably won’t have a loss of pay.

    On Long Island, where I grew up, we had a very large Jewish population, hence the closure of schools on Jewish holidays.

    That probably doesn’t help your situation, but at least it gives you an idea of what’s going on in my neck of the woods. Treatment of this issue varies regionally, and seems to be driven by numbers in the population.

    Hugh O’Donnells last blog post at [site]..Happy Camper!

  13. Michael Doyle

    on September 26, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    Dear Tracy,

    While I can understand why someone would want to explain the significance of a Holy Day, it saddens me when someone feels they have to defend it.

    You do not have to defend it. You need to believe this, or you will be defensive.

    (Yes, I know, all kinds of paper work and other PIA stuff, but that’s a separate issue from grasping you do not have to defend it.)

    I know you know this, of course, but it does not make the nonsense any easier. You are Jewish. You do not work on a Holy Day. No more than your principal (and I’m going to be a bit presumptuous here) would work on Easter. So Easter falls on a day off. Not your problem.

    You are not requesting anything–you are simply explaining to administration that you will not be available. The days are sacred. You know this. They might not, but no matter, you do.

    So whatever you decide to do, know that it matters that you honor the sacred.

    What else can we do?

    Michael Doyles last blog post at [site]..Mr. Clam goes to BHS

  14. sweetleaf

    on October 9, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    just checking with you tracy to see how this is going for you. any ground breakers?

  15. Reporting out and Following up

    on October 18, 2008 at 9:30 am

    [...] Jewish holidays, and will be making up the time on the weekend by attending different school events. I still do not feel comfortable with how the school board is dealing with religious observance. Though feel less queasy having found out that none of the holidays are paid days for anyone. The [...]