Reasonable Accommodation

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.