Press Releases

March 5, 2014


FCAT Schedule Creating Problems for

Christians and Jews


Christians and Jews throughout Florida are discovering that this spring’s FCAT testing schedule conflicts with the celebration of two multi-day religious celebrations–Holy Week and Good Friday for Christians, and Passover for Jews.

This is not the first time the state’s testing program has created consternation for those who place a high value on their faith tradition’s major celebrations. Nor are the scheduling conflicts unique to Central Florida counties, according to Cynthia Landers, senior administrator for Student Assessment and Database Management at Orange County Public Schools. Sixty of Florida’s 67 counties are facing a similar problem.

“Religious leaders recognize the challenge educators face in scheduling state-wide exams,” says Pastor James Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida. “The window in which the exams must be completed is relatively small, and there can be a variety of regional considerations that limit a given school district’s flexibility. But, as a practical matter, there are some days that should be considered off- limits. Categorically.”

Pastor Coffin suggests that in the same way that teachers wouldn’t schedule tests or have the due date for major assignments on the day after the Super Bowl, Holy Week and Passover should be black-out times, as well. “There are just too many out-of-school activities going on for many of the students to be fully rested and focused on a major exam–one that can determine whether they’ll advance to the next grade. Their performance can also influence the collective grade the school receives,” he says.

“It’s a ‘catch-22’ for parents,” says the Rev. Bryan Fulwider, president of the non-profit Building US and a long-time advocate for better interfaith understandings. “Obviously, parents want their children to achieve high marks academically. But they also want them to gain the blessing of participating in what are some of the most significant activities on their faith’s religious calendar.

“In fact, the challenges go beyond even that,” Rev. Fulwider continues. “If parents speak up too vocally and resist too strongly when these conflicts arise, they’re viewed as unsupportive and unreasonable. But if they’re too congenial in voicing their complaints, their concerns aren’t really taken seriously, and the problem keeps resurfacing year after year.”

“One of the challenges in bringing about change,” says Pastor Coffin, “is that comments and complaints are primarily directed to the educators at county and school level. Yet they have minimal latitude to adjust dates. The big decisions are made at the state level, where the decision makers receive relatively little direct feedback.”

Although Florida’s public schools provide for excused absences for major religious celebrations, and they also provide for make-up testing, parents are quick to point out that the dynamics change when it’s not the whole class that’s taking the test. And it still puts a potentially adverse burden on the student because all testing must be completed within the state-designated window.

“We’d like to see this matter gain sufficient exposure that it’s finally taken seriously and such conflicts pre-empted,” says Rev. Fulwider.

“A religious calendar can’t be changed,” says Rabbi Hillel Skolnik, president of the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis and Rabbi of the Southwestern Orlando Jewish Congregation. That’s why it’s crucial that the State of Florida not choose dates that create tensions in the lives of students and parents and create insurmountable obstacles for county education officials.

Rabbi Skolnik has a My Word opinion piece in yesterday’s (March 4) Orlando Sentinel in which he addresses the test-scheduling problem.

For further information and comment, contact:

Pastor James Coffin, Executive Director, Interfaith Council of Central Florida Phone: (cell) 321-228-4599; (office) 407-476-2072

The Rev. Bryan Fulwider, President, Building US Phone: (cell) 407-963-5556; (office) 407-262-9156 Email:

Rabbi Hillel Skolnik, President of the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis and Rabbi at the Southwestern Orlando Jewish Congregation
Phone (office) 407-239-5444

Rabbi David Kay, Jewish Community Relations Council and Associate Rabbi at Congregation Ohev Shalom
Phone: (office) 407-298-4650


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Interfaith Council Calls for Transparency and Justice in Trayvon Martin Case

The Interfaith Council of Central Florida (whose members include representatives from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faith traditions) calls upon officials at every level to move quickly and transparently in seeking justice in the case of Trayvon Martin. We call upon all citizens to continue, in a decidedly determined yet respectful and peaceful manner, to demand that government decision makers not rest until justice has been served and until trust has been restored. We urge our governor and legislators to expeditiously revisit the law that allowed this terrible tragedy to occur.

Nothing we can do individually or as a community will bring back Trayvon. Nothing we can do will remove the residual pain his parents and family must deal with for the rest of their lives. But as people of conscience, we call for appropriate action from this point forward by government authorities and concerned citizens to rebuild faith in our governmental officials and processes and to restore goodwill and mutual respect within our community.

The tragedy and travesty of this young man’s death highlight the pitfalls inherent in “profiling” of any kind. As religious leaders we repudiate laws, procedures and attitudes that condone such actions and that too often lead to highly negative outcomes.

Our hope and prayer is that through our collective actions and responses Trayvon’s family and our community will find at least some solace–as President Lincoln hoped would be the case after the carnage at Gettysburg–in knowing that the “dead shall not have died in vain.”

Released by the Interfaith Council of Central Florida on March 28, 2012.