Columbia County pupils who miss a couple of days of class because of religious obligations won't be penalized when it comes to exam time.
Currently, pupils who meet certain criteria can choose not to take some final exams. One of those criteria is attendance, and until the recent change in policy, a missed day because of religious reasons may have counted against the pupil.
The change relates to a Columbia County Board of Education policy that was adopted in 1988.
Under the policy, students in ninth, tenth and eleventh grades with a course grade average of 80 or above and with no absences from class; with a course average of 85 or above and with no more than three absences; and with a course average of 90 or above with no more than five absences and no disciplinary problems may exempt up to two final examinations per semester.
Seniors with an 85 or above course average and with no more than three absences and no discipline problems may exempt up to three final exams per semester, while those with a 90 average of above with no more than five absences and no disciplinary action may exempt all qualifying course exams for both semesters.
The religious excused absence adds one more exception to the list which now includes hospitalization, participation in leadership programs, senior visits to college campuses, participation in activities related to their senior project and funerals of immediate family.
This exemption would not apply to church retreats or trips and would be capped at two days per semester.
"As we are becoming more diverse with so many religions, it would be hard to say what two days off they could have," said Superintendent Tommy Price.
But not all board members were happy with the days being added to the policy. Chairman Wayne Bridges was the lone vote against it.
"It just seems like we are always adding to it," Bridges said. "I've never understood how somebody could have an 80 and take two days off and still be exempt from taking final exams."
"I have a problem that we keep expanding the number of days off, and in the end, what does it leave?"
To be excused the school would require documentation from church or synagogue officials that the pupil was attending a religious service during school hours.
Board member Roxanne Whitaker said her only concern was that the policy could be subject to abuse.
"We've also got to make sure children aren't changing religions according to the holidays," she said.
Board member Regina Buccafusco added, "If you are a religious kid who has a family member who dies and you go to leadership training, you can get 10 or 15 days out of this."
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