Saturday, June 6, 2009

Diversity is the corporate buzz word these days. Businesses want you to think it doesn't matter what color or religion you are, they welcome you with open arms.

The School District of Philadelphia is just such a business. They make a big deal about diversity. They put out a school calendar that highlights every ethnic holiday. The administration thinks it's great that an Orthodox Jew like my husband is a teacher in a public school in a part of town most middle class people avoid at at costs. They encourage him to wear his yarmulke to school. They appreciate the treats he brings to school before the Jewish holidays. They like that he explains what the holidays mean to his students - kindergarten through third graders, mainly from Puerto Rico, learning English as a Second Language (ESOL). They all know how to spin a dreidel and eat a hamantaschen

What a lovely tableaux of brotherhood and diversity!

The school district loves it - until it affects them.

Because we are Orthodox, there are certain things we don't do on the Sabbath. From sundown Friday night to after sunset Saturday, we don't answer the phone, turn on or use the computer, the television, or the radio. We don't drive the car, and we certainly can't drive down to the School District to get an assignment for summer school.

My husband had applied to teach summer school several weeks ago. Because we have a large family, and he is currently burdened with an unemployed wife trying to start a freelance pr/writing business, we really need the summer school income. He also likes teaching summer school because he can spend extra time with the kids who need his help. During summer school they are only taking his class, and he doesn't have to compete with other subjects.

On Wednesday, he received an email from the School District telling him to report on Saturday to pick up his summer school assignment. He sent an email in response, explaining that because he is an Orthodox Jew, he can't be there on Saturday and asked for a reasonable accommodation. He was told that in order to teach summer school he had to appear on Saturday or send a proxy to register in his place. But it had to be on Saturday, otherwise he couldn't teach this summer.

He then called the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the union that is happy to take a part of his salary twice a month, and they said they could not assign a proxy for him or help him in any other way. Thanks a lot Union.

Few of the teachers in his school want to teach summer school, and it was not easy to find a proxy. One teacher agreed to be the proxy, but she said she had to leave the meeting at 2. When we picked up our voice mail messages Saturday night, she said she tried to get his assignment before she left, but they were doing ESOL at 4 and would not give it to her in advance despite the special circumstances.

Without an assignment, he cannot teach summer school.

He can call again Monday and try to work something out, but why does it have to be this hard?

If we want diversity, we have to accommodate people's needs. And would it really be a big deal to hold out one teaching assignment for an Orthodox Jewish teacher who can't come in on Saturday?

What would you do?

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