A pending bill in Ohio excuses higher education absences due to religious observances
Ohio House Bill 353, which would require institutions of higher education to excuse absences related to religious holidays and observances, received its second committee hearing on February 15 and students at the University of Ohio testified.
The bill was first introduced in June 2021 by sponsors Gary Click, R-District 38, and Jessica Miranda, D-District 28, and has been referred to the Higher Education and College Readiness Committee. career. The committee held its first hearing on September 28, 2021, when both representatives testified.
The bill, called “The Testing Your Faith Act,” proposes that public institutions of higher learning provide reasonable accommodations to students with sincere religious beliefs and practices who miss exams or classes. It provides that students can miss up to three days of class each school year to participate in religious activities without penalty.
If a student misses an exam or academic requirement under these circumstances, the bill requires instructors to provide reasonable accommodations to compensate for the missed work without prejudice or question. However, students must provide a list of the dates they will be absent to their instructors during the first two weeks of class.
The committee held its second hearing with six additional witnesses, including OU students Grace Jarchow and Hadass Galili, the latter serving as a columnist for The post officeas well as Sarah Livingston, Executive Director of OU’s Hillel.
Livingston, a supporter of the bill, shared both her own testimony and the story of Zoe Felber, a former OU student who graduated in 2021. She shared Felber’s experience of a professor telling her in a lecture that she would receive a zero on quizzes she missed Jewish holidays, prompting Felber to communicate more with her professor and university administrators, collaborating with Hillel and the Diversity Division and of inclusion.
After working to create a policy within the OU that excuses no-shows and provides accommodations for religious holidays to avoid similar situations, Livingston said she supports the state bill and the efforts to adopt similar policies statewide.
“Fully protecting students from discrimination on the basis of religion and providing accommodations by law is a fantastic first step in preventing systemic anti-Semitism and helping our students succeed as a very small minority within the Ohio system. State Public University,” Livingston said in testimony.
Jarchow also testified in court, recounting a similar experience with difficulty obtaining permission to be absent to observe Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday. She supports House Bill 353 and believes that if a clear policy like this had been in place, the confusion in the situation might have been avoided.
“I believe the passage of this bill is critical to my education and religious freedom and to the generations that follow me,” Jarchow said in his statement. “I also believe I was denied accommodation on a simple line of ignorance.”
Chabad’s Rabbi Levi Raichik at OU cites ignorance as the reason why students like Jarchow and Felber cannot receive accommodations for absences related to religious practices. Raichik thinks most people don’t understand the importance of Jewish holidays.
The proposed bill, in addition to stipulating the accommodations students would be provided, would require state universities to provide a non-exhaustive list of religious holidays, post the policy in a prominent place on the university’s website university and to include a policy statement in course curricula.
Raichik believes the proposed legislation would make students feel more welcome within their college community.
“When you have to fight so hard with your own school administration but pay so much money just for the right to observe your own religion, it makes you feel like an outsider. It makes you feel unwanted. and unwelcome,” Raichik said.