NEW YORK – Despite a sizeable Orthodox Christian population in New York City, public school teachers are not permitted to take Good Friday off with full pay, as is the case for Roman Catholics, and for Jewish citizens who can do so on their holidays. An Orthodox Christian teacher of Greek descent, who didn’t want his name used, brought this matter to the attention of The National Herald. He said he was made a formal request to take off the Good Friday holiday. In many years, it is not an issue because it corresponds with Passover and Holy Week for western Christians, but this year Orthodox Pascha occurs more than a month later, on May 5.
When the teacher formally applied for the day off, it was approved, but he was later informed that his pay would be docked, however, to cover the costs of a substitute teacher.
He ended up having to use a personal day, but said he felt that policy “is like a slap in our face.” In the borough of Queens, up to 20 percent of the population may be Orthodox Christians. He added: “If our community leaders and the Church took the lead and approached our public officials, this wouldn’t be necessary … this should have come from the top a long time ago and it affects thousands of Orthodox.”
He said about 25 percent of the teachers at his school are Greek Orthodox.
The Department of Education accommodates Catholics and Jews through spring break. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) lists the following on its school calendar: “Spring Recess (includes Good Friday, Easter and Passover)(schools closed, students return to school on Wednesday, April 3).”
The teacher has reached out to local politicians and Costas Constantinides, a Democratic District Leader in Astoria who is running for the City Council, who told TNH he and his colleagues “will work for a positive solution.”
The teacher told TNH he also receives notes from parents who are upset that although their children are granted excused absences ion Good Friday, they are missing valuable school time.
They said they believe that in New York City, and especially in Queens, which has 20 percent of the city’s population, that schools should be closed on Orthodox Good Friday. Brooklyn also has large Greek, Russian and Arab Orthodox communities.
There is at least one online petition supporting him. Stephany Margarones told TNH that when she learned that Greek Orthodox priests on Long Island have contacted local officials but “they got nowhere,” she wanted to do something about it.
She created a petition that can be found at: http://signon.org/sign/christian-children-deserve?source=s.em.mt*r_by=7658758.
The introduction says “My children must miss their studies every year as I did on Good Friday because, our schools do not recognize it as a religious day of observance. I believe, as an Orthodox Christian, that we deserve a place on the public school calendar.”
Their target is 2000 signatures and they had 1314 as of April 26.
Readers may contact schools chancellor Dennis M. Walcott at [email protected] and Michael Mulgrew, President, of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) at [email protected]
A scene from the procession of the Epitaphios at the Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Photo/Patterson Graham)