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Policy 3000 – Religious Observances

The purpose of this policy is to set forth legal and policy provisions concerning the exercise and expression of religion by students and staff in the Howard County Public Schools.

Policy Document

I. Policy Statement

The Board of Education recognizes the diversity of traditions represented among the staff and students of the Howard County Public School System(HCPSS) and the value such diversity adds to the educational program. The Board respects the religious practices and observances of students and employees and is committed to providing reasonable accommodations for religious obligations.

II. Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to set forth provisions concerning the exercise and expression of religious practices and observances by students and employees in the HCPSS.

III. Definitions

Within the context of this policy, the following definitions apply:

  1. Lawful Absence – A student absence for any portion of the day as defined in COMAR 13A.08.01.03 and in accordance with the provisions in Policy 9010 Attendance.

  2. Parent – Any one of the following, recognized as the adult(s) legally responsible for the student:

    1. Biological Parent – A natural parent whose parental rights have not been terminated.

    2. Adoptive Parent – A person who has legally adopted the student and whose parental rights have not been terminated.

    3. Custodian – A person or agency appointed by the court as the legal custodian of the student and granted parental rights and responsibilities.

    4. Guardian – A person who has been placed by the court in charge of the affairs of the student and granted parental rights and responsibilities.

    5. Caregiver – An adult resident of Howard County who exercises care, custody or control over the student, but who is neither the biological parent nor legal guardian, as long as the person satisfies the requirements of the Education Article, §7-101 (c) (Informal Kinship Care).

    6. Foster Parent – An adult approved to care for a child who has been placed in their home by a state agency or a licensed child placement agency as provided by the Family Law Article, §5-507.

  3. Religion – A recognized system of belief or worship encompassing the nature of a deity and/or reality and the relationship of human beings to that deity and/or reality.

  4. Religious Holiday – Significant traditional and customary day of religious observance, excluding regular weekly prayer, services, or practices.

  5. Religious Obligation – Traditional and customary practice required of adherents to a religion.

IV. Standards

  1. A student absence for observation of a religious holiday is considered a lawful absence subject to the provisions of Policy 9010 Attendance.

  2. A student with a documented religious obligation that cannot be fulfilled except during the school day may receive a reasonable accommodation to meet that obligation.

  3. The essential curriculum, as defined by COMAR, cannot be waived for religious reasons except as provided in Maryland law and regulation.

  4. Pursuant to the Federal Equal Access Act, students in secondary schools may form religious clubs. Student-initiated religious clubs will not be sponsored by schools but will be afforded the same treatment as other extra-curricular student groups that meet during non-instructional time.

  5. When students are not engaged in instruction or school-related activities, they may voluntarily pray individually or in groups and discuss their religious views, as long as such behavior is not disruptive or coercive.

  6. Within the provisions of Policy 9210 Student Dress Code, students may wear attire as an expression of their religious practice.

  7. School officials will not mandate or organize prayer at graduation, nor organize religious baccalaureate ceremonies. If a school generally opens its facilities to private groups, it must make its facilities available on the same terms to organizers of privately sponsored religious baccalaureate services. A school will not extend preferential treatment to baccalaureate ceremonies and will disclaim official endorsement of such ceremonies.

  8. Regular morning exercises at schools may include a daily moment of silence, pursuant to state law.

  9. Employee absence due to observance of a religious holiday or fulfillment of a documented religious obligation when schools and/or offices are open will follow procedures in Policy 7110 Annual Leave for Administrative Personnel, and the appropriate negotiated agreement.

  10. As government employees, employees of the HCPSS are subject to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and thus required to be neutral concerning religion whether carrying out their duties or exercising their rights related to voluntary religious practices and freedom of speech.

  11. The contents of this policy will be communicated annually to all students, parents, employees, and the community.

V. Responsibilities

  1. The Superintendent/Designee will disseminate the standards in this policy to all students, employees, and parents.

  2. The Superintendent/Designee will determine whether a system of belief or worship is recognized as a religion for the purposes of this policy.

VI. Delegation of Authority

The Superintendent is authorized to develop procedures for the implementation of this policy.

VII. References

  1. Legal

    • United States Constitution as Amended, First Amendment

    • Equal Access Act, (20 U.S.C. § 4071-74)

    • United States Internal Revenue Code (26 USC Section 501(c) (3)

    • The Annotated Code of Maryland, Education Article, Section 7-103 (Required School Days and Holidays)

    • The Annotated Code of Maryland, Education Article, Section 7-104 (Daily Period of Silent Meditation)

    • COMAR 13A.01.04.03, School Safety

    • COMAR 13A.04.18.01 Comprehensive Health Education Instructional Programs for Grades Prekindergarten–12

    • COMAR 13A.08.01.03, Lawful Absence

    • COMAR 13A.08.01.04, Unlawful Absence

    • COMAR 13A.08.01.05, Student Attendance Policy

    • COMAR 13A.08.01.09, Student Organizations

  2. Other Board Policies

  3. Relevant Data Sources

  4. Other

    • HCPSS Circular: Religious Observances

    • Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Memorandum: NFHS Uniform Standards, March 21, 2017

VIII. History

ADOPTED: July 10, 1970


MODIFIED: August 14, 2014

REVISED: September 13, 1990, December 13, 1990, August 24, 1995, September 20, 2007, April 10, 2018

EFFECTIVE: July 1, 2018