Help for the Hoildays

By Thomas Hutton

During the holiday season, there's one thing worse for school board members, school administrators, and school lawyers than finding a lump of coal in their stockings: It's finding a legal complaint.

When it comes to public school observance of religious holidays, however, the courts haven't provided a whole lot of legal guidance. For example, only one such case has reached as high as a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1980, the 8th Circuit upheld a South Dakota school board's policy on holiday observances in Florey v. Sioux Falls School District, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court let stand. There are very few other decisions by federal courts and not many state court opinions, either.

The good thing about this paucity of case law is that it suggests there haven't been very many lawsuits over how schools handle religious holidays. The downside is that school attorneys are left to make educated guesses about how to advise their clients about what is legally acceptable.

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