New Law in Washington State Requires Colleges to Accommodate Religious Holidays

People crowd the University of Washington quad to view cherry blossoms in Seattle in April 2017. Photo by Joe Mabel/Creative Commons

A new state law makes it easier for college students to take time off for religious holidays.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5166 into law on Monday (April 29), making Washington the first state requiring that institutions of higher education provide academic accommodations to students who need them for religious observances. This includes rescheduling exams and permitting absences, as long as the student notifies the professor of the needed accommodation within the first two weeks of class.

College professors will also be required to add information about religious accommodations to their syllabuses.

The law requires colleges “to reasonably accommodate students who, due to the observance of religious holidays, expect to be absent or endure a significant hardship during certain days of the course or program,” according to the state Legislature’s website.

“Passing this bill sends a powerful message to all students that students of faith, and especially those in minority faith traditions, matter and are welcome in our educational system,” said Rabbi Allison Flash, assistant director of education at Temple Beth Am of Seattle.

Flash, along with other faith leaders, has been advocating for this legislation. It’s a step forward, she said, for Washington’s educational system.

“Students should not have to choose between upholding their academic responsibilities and honoring their faith traditions. This bill allows students of faith to honor both parts of their lives,” Flash said.

The idea for this measure came in 2017 when University of Washington student Byron Dondoyano decided to observe Ramadan with his Muslim peers.

“I did it for a week and it was really tough,”said Dondoyano, who is not religious.

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Source: Religion News Service