With goal of being more inclusive, schools add religious information to staff handbook

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The Whitefish School District is updating its staff handbook and calendar to be more inclusive and mindful of the wide variety of religions that can exist in the community.

Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt and Curriculum Director Ryder Delaloye spent the last year working with administrators and local religious leaders to develop an overview of the world’s most common religions to better prepare teachers for students with beliefs that otherwise might be unfamiliar.

The school district administrators presented the information at the Aug. 8 Whitefish School Board meeting.

“The primary goal is to foster and appreciate and develop a greater understanding of the plurality of beliefs that exist in our community,” Delaloye said. “This is an acknowledgment of the religions that we have that individuals practice. One of the things that’s important to that is the intersection of where those religions’ holidays intersect with the school calendar.”

While the overview document is not exhaustive, it covers the basics of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and other belief systems, including atheism and agnosticism as well.

The calendar includes key holidays for each religion.

School Board Trustee Katie Clarke suggested adding asterisks or small notes to holidays that include fasting so teachers can plan around the practice.

Several trustees also supported making the calendar span a full 12 months, rather than just the school year.

“We’re still trying to just help educate the staff to make them aware,” Trustee Anna Deese said. “We have so many exchange students too. It would be nice to know what they’ve just experienced.”

Delaloye said the overview and calendar are meant for staff and aren’t intended to directly influence curriculum, though the topics covered are in line with current social studies and history lesson plans across the district.

Though the staff handbook addition will be a small, simple change, Delaloye stressed the importance of being mindful of others’ beliefs.

“Religion is a deeply personal experience for families and students. Especially when it’s religions that aren’t necessarily Christian in our community, it’s important to have respect for that and also to have discretion at times,” he said. “This is a really nice vehicle to help teachers in understanding the needs that may arise for different segments of our community.”

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