What is believed to be the state’s first religious tolerance policy for schools meets all the major federal standards for separation of church and state, according to the Anti-Defamation League in Atlanta.
“Overall, it’s a really good policy that incorporates the major SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) decisions on separation of church and state in schools, while providing for important religious accommodations,” said Shelley Rose, the ADL’s deputy regional director. “I am not aware of other initiatives in Georgia, but this could certainly serve as a model to other school districts.”
As expected, the Clarke County School District in Athens approved a proposed religious tolerance policy Dec. 13 that recognizes and equitably treats the religious rights of students and teachers. The policy, known as ICKA, also provides guidelines for teaching about religion, allows absences for holiday observances and accommodates dietary restrictions due to religion.
Dawn Meyers is associate superintendent of policy and school support systems in Clarke County. When tasked with creating a religious tolerance policy for the school district, Meyers looked throughout the country for a school policy on which to model Clark County’s. She didn’t find one in Georgia, but did in Pennsylvania.
The ADL’s Rose said she commends “the parent who initiated this and the school district for taking this issue seriously.”
That parent was Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, a professor at the University of Georgia in the Department of Language and Literacy Education. She drafted a letter along with Rabbi Eric Linder of her Reform synagogue, Congregation Children of Israel, and presented it to Clarke County School District Superintendent Demond Means.
Meyers said her school district had some general practices in place, but they weren’t clear or consistent throughout the district. That was why an actual policy was needed. She said the new policy also aligns with the district’s strategic priorities that include social/emotional growth of the students and educational equity.
The policy received only positive public comments prior to the school district vote last month. According to Meyers, it was to be updated to “active” in the school’s policy manual.
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