6190 - Holiday Observance and Program Policy

Policy 6190 Holiday Observance and Program Policy title box

A. Recognition of Diversity

It is the policy of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, Bennington School District, Inc., Mount Anthony Union School District, North Bennington Graded School District, Pownal School District, Shaftsbury School District, and Woodford School District to recognize the diverse beliefs which are held by the various constituents of our school community, and encourage all students and staff to appreciate and be tolerant of each other’s religious beliefs. It is the goal of the supervisory union to foster understanding and mutual respect among people of different race, culture, economic background or religious belief.

B. Curricular Base

In the spirit of tolerance, neither the school district nor its staff will promote any religious belief or non-belief.

The historical and contemporary values and the origin of religious holidays may be studied in an unbiased and objective manner without sectarian indoctrination.

Music, art, literature and drama having religious themes are permitted as part of the curriculum for school-sponsored activities and programs only if the religious themes are treated in an objective manner and the material is presented as part of a program with a secular purpose. No religious exercise may be conducted at school as part of the program of instruction.

Teachers should plan field trips, tests and special events for times when, to the extent feasible, these will not directly conflict with students’ known religious observances and absences.

Religious symbols, such as the cross or menorah, shall not be displayed at school except for incidental and explanatory purposes as related to the program of instruction.

C. Right to Excuse Child

A parent or guardian of a student may excuse his or her child from classroom discussions or activities related to particular holidays.

Policy 6190 warning and adoption dates


Work of ad hoc committee of teachers, parents, and administrators under
Direction of Assistant Superintendent George Carpenter

Holiday activities and teaching about religions in the schools of the BSD and MAU Districts must conform to the general Holiday Observance and Program Policy (#6190). Below are Specific Criteria which are standards to use in deciding whether a religion- or holiday-related activity is allowable under the Policy and these Guidelines.

There are also General Guidelines and Examples of What Can and Cannot Occur to help teachers, administrators, other school personnel, students and parents understand what these Specific Criteria mean in practice.


Understanding that the concerns raised over the recognition of holidays and of the teaching of religions in the schools are likely to be the subject of continuing discussion, the committee worked with the following nine goals in mind. We offer these Policy Criteria and Guidelines in the same spirit, and hope that the community and schools will interpret and implement them in the same spirit.

  1. To encourage excellence in teaching, learning, parenting and administering.
  2. To encourage balanced, inclusive treatment of diverse beliefs.
  3. To see to walk in each others’ shoes.
  4. To promote respect for the beliefs of others.
  5. To promote the respectful sharing of ideas without judgment.
  6. To encourage teachers, students, parents and all school personnel to work together in a spirit of cooperation to implement these Guidelines.
  7. To free teachers to teach about religions and holidays, within these Guidelines, without fear of reprisals.
  8. To encourage teachers to utilize the resources of the community, including religious organizations where appropriate, for professional development and for assistance in teaching under these Guidelines.
  9. To encourage uniform policy and education throughout the SVSU regarding these issues we urge all school boards within the SVSU to adopt similar Policies and Guidelines.

The goals of Policy #1200 are to “foster understanding and mutual respect among people of differing race, cultural, economic and religious belief,” and “to appreciate and be tolerant of each other’s religious beliefs” and other beliefs. Teachers and all other personnel working in schools must therefore take care to assure balance and fairness and inclusion in the ways holidays and religions are taught and presented.

Schools are permitted to teach about holidays and religions provided this is done in ways which are factual, not devotional or related to activities of worship. In ways which do not promote or denigrate any particular religions or doctrines, and in ways which represent a broad cross-section of beliefs, non-beliefs and customs.

The goal of the Policy can be accomplished only if ALL of the following criteria are met for EACH activity or lesson, for the study of religions and holidays through the year and through the K-12 curriculum and for the overt and covert messages presented in public spaces of the school buildings.

In other words, a particular lesson or activity is not acceptable under the Policy unless it conforms to ALL the criteria below:

a. The rights and sensitivities of all groups, particularly minorities, are respected.
b. Individual children will not feel left out or hurt. If a particular lesson or activity is considered essential by the teacher, but will exclude a student, an acceptable, curricular-based alternative must be offered to all students. Teachers should strive to make their lessons inclusive rather than exclusive, however, as should those who decorate the public spaces of a school building. See (f) and (g) below on decorating guidelines.
c. Holiday activities (such as parties) are spread throughout the year in a seasonally and academically appropriate manner; holidays of only one or two particular groups do not dominate a classroom or school building—including hallways, cafeteria, libraries and other public spaces—through the year.
d. Throughout the year information and activities about a wide variety of different religions is presented, rather than focusing only on one or two.
e. Curricular-based reasons exist for the choice of which holidays and religions to recognize in a classroom or public space, rather than including only those which are or are not represented in a particular classroom or school.
f. Religious symbols such as a cross, menorah, can be used as artifacts to teach about a religion, to teach about their use and meaning, but can be displayed in the school or classroom only temporarily, i.e., for the duration of the related course of study.
g. Holiday decorations which are cultural or traditional, rather than purely religious (including, but not limited to: Christmas trees, dreidles, Easter baskets, Halloween items, Valentines hearts, St. Patrick’s Day items) must adhere to the above Specific Criteria (a-e). They should be displayed no longer than one week unless tied to the curricular needs of a teacher (such as music or art) who sees children only once a week.
h. A teacher must obtain parental permission before asking a student to explain her or his own religious practices or observances, particularly if the student is “the only one,” or a member of a minority group.


Schools are permitted to teach about holidays and religions provided this is done in ways which are factual, not devotional,.or related to activities of worship. In ways which do not promote or denigrate any particular religions or doctrines, and in ways which represent a broad cross-section of beliefs, non-beliefs and customs.

I. CURRICULAR PRINCIPLES: The curriculum should drive holiday-related activities and the teaching about religions in the schools; holidays should not drive or overwhelm the curriculum. Secular, curriculum-based criteria should be used to decide which (if any) holidays are to be recognized in classrooms and in the public spaces of the school building, as well as why and how to teach about particular holidays and religions.

a. The choice of which holidays to recognize should be dictated by the overall district and/or classroom curriculum. The mere existence of a holiday on certain calendars, or the reason that “we’ve always done this,” is not a sufficient justification for a particular holiday to be included or excluded. The belief that there may not be a representative of a particular religion in the class or school or the community is not a sufficient reason for a particular holiday to be ignored.
b. By the time of graduation, our children should have an understanding of the religions and cultures of the world, not only of those groups who happen to live in our community at a particular time. One of the goals of the K-12 curriculum should be to advance the students’ knowledge of the role that various religious heritages have played in the historical development of all cultures.
c. It is appropriate to ask students to learn information that is unfamiliar or even intellectually unsettling to them. Parents have the right to ask that their children be excused from certain activities. However, teachers and other school personnel should try to distinguish between intellectual and emotional discomfort, and try to minimize having students feel left out, humiliated, picked out as a representative spokesperson, or put on the spot.
d. Since religious and holiday messages and activities in schools are often presented outside of individual classrooms in other public spaces such as hallways, libraries and lunchrooms, and since it is important to have consistency, these Guidelines and Specific Criteria should be followed by all school personnel, not just teachers.

II. ACTIVITIES: The meaning of holidays may be taught through activities which are fun, age-appropriate, seasonally-appropriate, hands-on and exciting. This may include parties. However, these methods should conform to curricular guidelines and the Holiday Policy, and all the Specific Criteria.

a. In deciding upon a particular lesson, project, party, field trip related to a holiday or religion, teachers should ask themselves: What is the secular, curricular goal or objective for this activity? What do I want my students to learn? How does this activity serve the academic goals of the course and the educational mission of the school? Does this activity conform to all the Specific Criteria?
b. When teaching about religious holidays teachers may demonstrate the use and meaning of religious and cultural objects as long as these are treated as artifacts to be explained in context, not used as part of religious worship or observance.
c. It is important to remember that religious are not only holidays. Although the issue usually raises community concern only around the questions of holiday parties or concerts, it is the role of the teacher and other school personnel to insure that such activities are in proper curricular context. This can be done by insuring that teachers are prepared to teach about the meaning of each chosen holiday in a way that enriches students’ understanding of history and other cultures and in ways which conform to the Specific Criteria.

a. One way teachers can maintain a factual stance toward information about holidays and religions is to be sensitive to the language they use in presenting the materials. For example: “We will learn about what X-group does,” instead of “We believe X, but they believe or do Y.” An acceptable, factual statement is “Jesus lived....” An unacceptable, devotional statement is: “Jesus, our Lord, lived...”
b. Truthful language is important in many ways. It is appropriate and important to call specific holidays by their names. For example teachers should label Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa (etc.) correctly when referring to the specific holiday. On the other hand, since the rest of these guidelines discourage the practice of letting the traditions of any one group dominate a season or curricular period, calling a concert at the end of the calendar year a “holiday” or “winter” concert is more appropriate.

IV. ARTWORK: Artwork depicting religious symbols and themes may be studied in the context of art history. Teachers may not require or suggest that students create artwork with religious symbols or themes; however, students may choose to do so. Teachers should avoid focusing their art curriculum solely on holidays for their projects through the year and should avoid “mixed messages,” for example providing only red and green paper or crayons for projects at Christmas time and telling the students to make “holiday”( rather than Christmas) projects.

V. MUSIC: Religious and holiday music compositions may be studied in the context of music history or the context of cultural and social history. Teachers may present concerts with religious music when appropriate, taking care that the total program presents a balance of different cultures and religions. Teachers should avoid focusing their curriculum and concerts solely on religion and holidays. Teachers shall excuse students from particular music upon parent request. Individual students are permitted to present religious music, subject to teacher approval, if they choose to do so at concerts or recitals where students select their own presentations.

VI. LITERATURE: Literature of religious importance may be studied in terms of its historical or literary significance. Teachers may not require or suggest that students produce written compositions with a religious or holiday themes; however students may choose to do so.

VII. DECORATIONS: Holiday decorations or religious symbols may be displayed on a temporary basis when they coincide with the study of a particular holiday, provided the decorating activities conform to the Specific Criteria in these Guidelines. Teachers may not require students to make particular religious holiday decorations. Teachers, other school personnel and students may wear religious symbols without restriction. Teachers and other school personnel may wear personal holiday decorations/colors, but should be aware of the impact this may have on the sensitivities of students of different beliefs.

VIII. CONCERTS AND PERFORMANCES: Concerts that present a variety of selections may include religious music, although concerts should avoid being dominated by religious music related to one religious group’s holiday. Drama, art exhibits or literature with religious themes are permissible if they conform to the guidelines above and do not promote religious belief. Re-enactments such as nativity pageants or the Hanukkah miracle are not permitted, since they promote religious belief. Thanksgiving may be reenacted, since this is primarily a historical event.

IX. GROUPS AFFECTED BY THESE POLICIES AND GUIDELINES: All official school functions or activities sponsored by officially affiliated school organizations are to be encouraged to abide by these Guidelines.

X. PARENTS TO BE INFORMED: Parents are to be informed about the substance of this policy and the guidelines. They are encouraged to discuss and present concerns about particular lessons as well as the overall, year-long “message” presented in a classroom or school to the classroom teacher and, if necessary, to building administrators.<

XI. DISCUSSION AND APPEAL MECHANISM: No guidelines can anticipate all possible questions or concerns from parents and teachers. Questions which are not addressed here, or which need further interpretation, are to be dealt with in the following manner within each school and within the SVSU:

Step 1: Bring the question or concern to the classroom teacher. If further resolution is needed...
Step 2: Bring the issue to the attention of the principal. If further resolution is needed...
Step 3: The principal shall form a panel to review the issue and interpret how it relates to the SVSU Holiday Observance and Program Policy (#6190) and these Administrative Guidelines. If further resolution is needed...
Step 4: Submit written findings from Step 3 to the Superintendent. If further resolution is needed...
Step 5: The Superintendent shall work with the school board and/or an outside arbitrator for final resolution based on current policies and curriculum.