Kids can skip school on Buddha's birthday and 74 other holidays

To keep her perfect attendance record, Tahera Ali's 13-year-old daughter used to go to school for only a couple of hours on the Islamic Day of Ashurah, getting out just in time to attend prayers for what is a holy day of sorrow.

"We wear all black on that date, and she would have to change in the car on the way" to the mosque, said the Bridgewater mother.

This year it will be different.

Using a little-known process that intertwines education and religion, Ali petitioned her district and this year the day was placed on New Jersey's approved list of religious holidays. On these days, individual students may be absent from school due to their faith, without penalty, even though it is not a districtwide holiday.

"I am so glad and thankful," said Ali. "My children haven't been absent since kindergarten."

Setting of the religious calendars for schools can be a complex process, with the list ever-growing as the population of New Jersey becomes more diverse. The calendar now includes six religions and counts 75 days of the school year, almost double the number from 15 years ago.

{josquote}For state officials more familiar with pedagogy than theology, it can be a challenge to sort it all out.{/josquote}

This year, it runs from the Islamic Day of Ascension on Sept. 1 to a Buddhist holiday on June 26 that celebrates His Holiness the 17th Gyalawa Karmpapa's birthdate.

In between are Christmas, Passover and the first day of Ramadan, as well as Buddhist and Baha'i holidays. For state officials more familiar with pedagogy than theology, it can be a challenge to sort it all out.

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