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Philly Teachers Miffed Over Leave

April 1, 2010 By:
Aaron Passman
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Some Jewish teachers in the Philadelphia School District are upset over the district's time-off policy as it pertains to Passover.

The week of Monday, March 29 to Friday, April 2 was originally scheduled to be spring break, however Monday and Tuesday -- the start of Pesach -- were added back on the school calendar to partially make up for the extra snow days this winter.

Teachers who wanted to take time off for the holiday were allowed to use personal days -- each teacher gets three per year -- at full pay, or take religious leave at one-third pay, with a note from a religious leader.

"I just feel so violated and just so disrespected, and I think other people that I've spoken to feel the same way," said one teacher who didn't want her name used because she feared retaliation from her principal. "What about us? Does our holiday mean nothing to the district? It just feels like we're non-people."

Barbara Goodman, communications director for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the union that represents them, stated that the school district's policy does not discriminate against Jews.

Because of the way spring break falls in different years, sometimes teachers have "all of Passover off, and sometimes they have none of Passover off," said Goodman.

She explained that the policy about taking holidays is "the same whether you're Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist -- it doesn't matter. The rules are the same."

Goodman, an Orthodox Jew who said that she's had to deal with these issues herself over the years, said that the school district's policy dates back to the early 1980s.

Class days to make up for other snow days have been rescheduled throughout the remainder of the spring semester.

Barbara Farley, director of communications for the School District of Philadelphia, said in a written statement that teachers were notified of the changes on March 10, giving them sufficient time "to obtain the necessary documentation" if they decided to take off.

Sarah Krantz, a teacher who works at Warren G. Harding Middle School, was less distressed, but said that of the approximately 15 Jewish teachers at her school, about half were upset over the matter.

"People feel very conflicted about it," she said, noting that some of her colleagues were taking the time off even if they didn't get paid. "It's very unfair, because if we hadn't taken those as snow days, we would've gotten paid for having that time off."

Barry Morrison, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, said that his organization had gotten one phone call about the issue. But he said that the district's policy is essentially a fair one, offering adequate accommodation for religious holidays. What he did object to, however, was the stipulation that rabbis had to sign off on religious leave wherever it falls on the calendar.

Said Morrison: "The law is very clear about saying that a school does not have the authority to ask an employee to provide proof of their affiliation with a congregation," though he added that requiring verification that a person is of particular religious belief is not inappropriate.

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