Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Adar 5761 - March 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Victory For Orthodox Teachers In School Leave Dispute
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Orthodox public school teachers in the Monsey area recently won their fight to overturn a discriminatory policy that had prevented them from using personal leave days for religious holidays. The East Ramapo school board is now once again allowing teachers paid leave for religious reasons.

The school board first circulated a memo last October stating that all employees were henceforth prohibited from using leave days for religious holidays. The school board based their policy on a recent New York State court case, Port Washington Union Free School District v. Port Washington Teachers Association. Monsey public school teacher Mark Berkowitz thought that smacked of anti- religious discrimination, and so he contacted Agudath Israel of America concerning the legality of the East Ramapo Central School District's policy.

Agudath Associate General Counsel Mordechai Biser wrote Mr. Berkowitz that he was right and the school district was wrong. The court in the Port Washington case had only ruled that giving religiously observant teachers more paid days off than those who were not observant was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, since it "promoted" religious observance. In East Ramapo, by contrast, observant teachers had been able to use their personal leave days for religious holidays while non- observant teachers could use their leave days for other valid reasons.

Further research by the Agudah attorney showed that the new East Ramapo policy was even clearly unconstitutional. In a 1986 case, Ansonia Board of Education v. Philbrook, the Supreme Court of the United States explicitly stated that refusing to provide paid leave as an accommodation would be discriminatory "when paid leave is provided for all purposes except religious ones."

Agudath Israel immediately alerted New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office of the East Ramapo policy. Deputy Attorney General Avi Schick responded promptly by calling the school board's attorney and urging that the policy against using leave days for religious reasons be reversed. The school board -- faced with the legal facts -- subsequently voted to overturn the discriminatory policy. Mr. Berkowitz has now been granted personal leave for the yomim tovim that he requested.

"Agudath Israel thanks the Attorney General for his prompt intervention in this case," said Rabbi Biser. But he cautioned that there may be other school districts in the area that are still maintaining a "no paid leave for religious holidays" policy. "The law is clear -- if employees can take paid personal leave for any other purpose, they must be allowed to take paid leave for religious purposes."


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