Accomodation Graduation?

You may have read in recent news about Li Morse, a New York teenager who attended Mott Haven High School in Harlem.  She was unable to attend her high school graduation because the ceremony took place on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. Morse, 18, is the only Jewish teenager in her class.

We have read that in the past both the school and Morse’s classmates accommodated her religious obligations, ensuring that class trips and other events would not conflict with Jewish holidays. This did not, however, carry over to an oh-so-important rite of passage…her high school graduation. Despite several requests from Morse, her family, and their Rabbi, Mott Haven’s Principal was unable to move the day of the ceremony.

Ultimately, the school and Morse were able to compromise on a private ceremony for the teenager in which Morse received her diploma from the Department of Education’s Chancellor, Joel Klein, at Tweed Courthouse (a historic site in New York City).

Although Morse’s predicament has been resolved to her school’s satisfaction, she has found this incident to be “…one of the most absurd situations in my life” and has gone on to say she is “very angry.”  This incident highlights the need for greater religious sensitivity in the educational system. After 12 years of hard work, every teenager should have the opportunity to graduate with the rest of their class, and they should not have to compromise their religious beliefs to do so.

This situation also reveals the complex situation facing schools, which are increasingly expected to accommodate all the needs of their diverse student bodies. Should Mott Haven and Morse’s entire class have rearranged their schedules to accommodate one student’s needs? And how might changing the date affect other students with different religious obligations? In this case, changing the graduation date proved unrealistic, as the venue where the ceremony was held had limited availability. Luckily, a semi-acceptable solution was found for Li Morse, though it is likely that many other students across the country have been faced with a similar dilemma.

It’s true, religious accommodation takes work and, clearly, addressing religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity in schools is a tricky task. Simple solutions are often inadequate in addressing the many identities in American classrooms.  More focus must be spent seeking to improve educators’ capacities to deal with the issues that arise in diverse classrooms.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this…