Bud Kennedy

April 17, 2014

In H-E-B schools, it’s not Good Friday without a good note

A Bedford lawmaker objects to schools requiring a parent’s note for an excused absence on the Christian holy day.

Some students thought Friday would be a holiday.

Now, thanks to the icy winter, it’s a school day.

That’s the subject of the newest church-and-state dust-up, and as you might expect, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, is in the middle of it.

Stickland, the undefeated Tea Party champion of Hurst-Euless-Bedford, went to bat Thursday for parents upset because school officials asked for a church program or documentation to excuse a Good Friday absence.

By midday, H-E-B officials explicitly instructed principals to accept a parent or guardian’s note, the least Texas law requires.

That didn’t calm Stickland.

“There’s a lot of people upset about this,” said Stickland, the parent of a H-E-B first-grader.

“I’d rather not have school on Good Friday at all. But I wish the school district would make it easy for parents on such an important day.”

Good Friday was one of two makeup “snow days” written into the H-E-B calendar more than a year ago, district spokeswoman Judy Ramos said.

(Many schools use Good Friday and Memorial Day as makeup days instead of adding school days on Saturdays or extending the calendar into June.)

Parents were notified in a January email newsletter that Good Friday and also a half-day of school on May 30 would make up for ice days Dec. 6 and 9, Ramos said.

Based on a memo Thursday from Deputy Superintendent Lydia Scozzari, Ramos said administrators will ask for a program or documentation of a church service but accept a parent’s note.

“What we're asking is that the parents let us know where the student is, just to make sure that if they’re not in school, they’re with the parent at a religious observance,” Ramos said.

That still rankled Stickland.

“I don’t think they should be asking for anything,” he said.

His church, First Baptist of Hurst, does not list a Friday church service on its online calendar.

Stickland said he and his family will spend the day “focused on Christ” and watching a children’s movie version of the crucifixion and resurrection.

A parent, Brent Harper, said he grew up in schools where Good Friday was a holiday.

(That wasn’t always the case, even in Texas. Some judges elsewhere have ruled school holidays can’t favor a religion.)

“I was concerned why we were having a makeup day Good Friday, and they informed me this has been going on for years,” he said.

“Many people believe this is not acceptable,” said Harper, a parent of two children in different schools.

“Children should be excused, and they shouldn’t be required to show documentation.”

Harper said the administrators at his children’s two schools gave him two different answers about how they can qualify for an excused absence.

But you can understand why they’re worried. The district needs a parent’s note or some written proof to qualify for what little money the state of Texas provides.

Maybe that’s something to take up with Stickland.

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