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Religious excused absences expanded in public schools under new law

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

Delaware students will soon have more freedom to be excused from school for religious holidays.


Delaware’s schools haven’t had explicit state guidance on the excusal of students for religious purposes, State Sen. Laura Sturgeon (D-Hockessin), a teacher herself, says students of minority faiths, such as Muslim students often have to work out those excusals with their teachers individually.


State senators passed a bill granting every student of every religion permission to be excused for religious holidays.


Some Republican senators expressed concerns that students may take extended absences under this bill, such as for Ramadan.


“Ramadan is not a holiday, it is a holy month, and so, you would not be expecting any students to be asking for the entire month off — just like most students don’t ask off for Lent or other periods of holiness in other religions,” she said.


That’s State Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton (D-Christina), the prime sponsor of the bill who showed up to the Senate session last week in support of her bill. Wilson-Anton is a practicing Muslim, and the first elected to the state legislature.


Other Republicans, including Sen. Colin Bonini (R-South Dover) took issue with an amendment directing the Secretary of Education to create a list of religious holidays as guidance for school districts, which Bonini says conflicts with religious freedom.


“I think passing this bill might start to lead down the path of not protecting people's religious freedoms because oh my religion isn't on the list, and I know you just said it’s guidance but then the Secretary of Education puts it on the list and somebody else says well that religion’s offensive to my religion,” he said. “And why are we involved in that?”


The bill otherwise received bipartisan praise for helping those who previously were unable to celebrate their religious holidays away from school. 


Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos (D-Elsmere) says being a Greek Orthodox Christian who’s holidays don’t align with western Christianity, it’s nice to see a bill that gives students flexibility.


The bill passed 17 to 1, with 3 Republican senators not voting. It now heads to Gov. Carney’s desk for his signature.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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