Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Help Me Howard: Excused Absences
Here is one for you. People of two different religions celebrate the same day, but it's only considered a religious holiday for one religion and not the other. Is that legal? Well, it's why one Catholic mother called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Many people collect things, but few can match Barbara's assortment of 176 miniature perfume bottles.
Barbara Canidare: "They have the original fragrance in them because I wanted to keep the original bottle as it was."
Barbara collected perfume bottles when she was younger. Today she tries to help her daughters collect perfect attendance awards.
Barbara Canidare: "Normally it's not hard for us to achieve that. We try to encourage them to be in school when they have to be in school."
This year Barbara decided to take her girls out of school in January to observe a religious holiday celebrated by many Christians, Three Kings Day.
Barbara Canidare: "It's an important religious celebration for us in my original country, which is Puerto Rico."
After seeing on the school district's website that Three Kings Day, also known as the Holy Epiphany, was considered a religious holiday, meaning students could be excused, Barbara notified the school in writing that the girls would go to Puerto Rico to celebrate with her entire family.
Barbara Canidare: "And they celebrate a mass to commemorate the Three Kings Day and there are parades all over the island."
They had a wonderful time, but when the girls returned to school Barbara was stunned to find out that the school district considered Three Kings Day an excused absence for just for Greek Orthodox, but not for Roman Catholics, like Barbara's children
Of course Barbara could have done what some parents would do, lie and say the girls were sick, then the absences would have been excused.
Barbara Canidare: "My kids, they don't like to lie and they don't like to say things that are not the truth. I did not want to put them in that position."
Now you may be thinking, what's the big deal? Why worry about a couple of unexcused absences?
Barbara Canidare: "This is just two absences, you have another three or four more and you could not be in trouble. It's just the principal of the whole thing."
Barbara wanted her children to celebrate a religious holiday. So Howard, can a school district excuse people of one religion for Three Kings, but tell Roman Catholic's who celebrate the day you cannot be excused?
Howard Finkelstein: "Three Kings is a day of religious celebration around the world, and in particular Puerto Rico where Barbara is from. It meets the legal requirement that it be a legitimate belief, and therefore, accordingly, the school could have and should have excused Barbara's kids on that day."
A Miami-Dade school spokesman told me while January 6th, Three Kings Day, was not an official religious holiday for Catholics,
Barbara could change that by petitioning the school district to add the holiday to the official list for students who observe that day.
Religious issues can be touchy for organizations to deal with, but that's nothing new.
Howard Finkelstein: "Rarely does a year go by that the United States Supreme Court does not have to answer some question about the role of religion in governments, schools and our private lives. This has been going on since the beginning, that's why it's covered in the very first amendment to our constitution."
Barbara may petition the district so to excuse Catholic students whose parents want them to celebrate Three Kings Day, because she says in some cases the parents do know best.
Barbara Canidare: I never thought that a religious holiday would be questioned, especially not by the school or the district.
Can Barbara get the district attendances to excuse every student who celebrates Three Kings Days? Never know till you try. But one thing, even if you are excused, it still counts as an absence, so if you are trying for perfect attendance, it goes out the window when you celebrate a religious holiday no matter what religion you are.
Got no prayer of solving a problem. You don't need divine intervention. Just a phone to contact us. With your blessing we will do our best.