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Religious Observances 2018-19

As a public school district, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) must be neutral regarding religion, but this neutrality exists in tension with the JCPS District’s responsibility to be sensitive to the needs of individual students and their families so that no students are penalized because of their beliefs. This advisory describes general approaches and notes areas requiring particular attention and action. Below is a list of the most common religions in the district.  The religions are listed in alphabetical order.

All Faith Groups, All Seasons

The district’s policy on absence for religious observances is as follows:

  • Students absent for religious observances receive excused absences; they have the number of days they were absent, plus one, to make up work. Students may not be required to turn in make-up assignments on the day of their return after the observance; such a requirement would constitute the school’s interference with the religious observance.
  • Please refer to the JCPS Student Support and Behavior Intervention Handbook and the Student Bill of Rights. For further questions regarding student absences due to religious holidays/observances, contact the director of Compliance and Investigations.
  • Scheduling special events during the school day, as well as after-school and evening activities, requires sensitivity in order to avoid forcing students to choose between major school events and major religious events.
    • Consult the calendar. When are major religious holidays observed during the year? Talk with your school’s families. Who observes holidays that are not congruent with the civil calendar? Does the day begin at sundown or sunup? Are they “Sabbath” (no work/no school) holidays? Are there special dietary needs that School and Community Nutrition Services should consider? Are there times when field trips will be difficult because of students’ dietary needs or special religious responsibilities?
    • Plan around these dates when scheduling one-time events that cannot be made up (e.g., Open House, homecoming, graduation, major tests, reviews for major tests, introducing new material or skills if no make-up is feasible—any major event that will put absent students at a disadvantage). Some coaches choose to avoid scheduling athletic events on days that team members will be absent for religious observances.
    • When planning weekend events, assess the feasibility of scheduling some events on Sunday so that all groups share the responsibility for being flexible and understanding.
    • Give attention to the patterns of children’s participation in evening religious activities. Consider creating a flexible homework schedule so students don’t have major homework on the evenings that they worship until 8 or 9 p.m.
  • As our community becomes more diverse, paying attention to food choices becomes more important. We now have many people who eat no meat, so the need for alternatives is becoming the rule rather than the exception. The School and Community Nutrition Services director will assist your cafeteria manager in identifying appropriate alternative selections.
  • Talk with parents! Keep in mind that families’ expectations are not uniform—even within the same group. Ongoing, open conversation with members of your school community is critical to addressing religion appropriately in our diverse district.
  • Use the district’s resources for assistance in addressing issues concerning religion and the public schools. Please call Diversity/Multicultural Education Specialist Dr. Monica Lakhwani in the JCPS Equity and Inclusion Office at (502) 485-7269 or JCPS Director of Compliance and Investigations Dr. Georgia Hampton at (502) 485-3341.


The Bahai faith was founded in 1863 in Persia and emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. Members of the Bahai community observe nine days each year when they refrain from working; these observances begin at sundown the day before the stated date. Talk with your Bahai families to identify dates affecting them.


Buddhism was founded in Northern India by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. He lived from approximately 566 to 480 B.C. Practitioners follow many different forms of Buddhism, but all traditions are characterized by the tenets of nonviolence, lack of dogma, and tolerance of differences. The most significant holiday in Buddhist communities is Vesak (Buddha Day), which celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. The date of this holiday is different in every cultural community, but the celebrations usually occur in May. Talk with your Buddhist families to identify dates affecting them.


Because the civil calendar generally reflects the Western Christian liturgical year, Christian families experience few problems with scheduling.

  • Advent begins on December 2 and ends December 24. Some employees and students may observe dietary restrictions during this time. For Christians, Advent is a time of preparation leading up to Christmas Day on December 25.
  • On Ash Wednesday, March 6, some employees and students might be absent for at least part of the day.
  • ​Throughout Lent, some Christian students and employees will have food restrictions that require alternative menus. (The Nutrition Services director is working with cafeteria managers to identify appropriate alternative selections.)
  • Holy Week, April 14–20, brings special responsibilities for some students, making it impossible for them to complete major assignments or to participate in evening activities or overnight trips. Schools having Christian students will want to avoid scheduling major events on Ash Wednesday evening, Good Friday (April 19), or Easter Sunday, April 21.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

The Eastern Orthodox Christian Church follows the Julian Calendar, rather than the Gregorian Calendar of the Western churches. Most local-area Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25, but some may observe the holiday on January 7. The Nativity Fast will begin on November 15 and end on December 25. During this time, Orthodox Christians have dietary restrictions. Orthodox Lent begins on Monday, March 11. Orthodox Easter (Holy Pascha) is celebrated on Sunday, April 28. Orthodox Christian students and employees may not be present for school/work on Orthodox Holy Friday, April 26. Please be aware that throughout Lent, Orthodox students and employees honor certain food restrictions and are at times required to attend religious activities in the evenings.


Hinduism is India’s indigenous religious and cultural system, followed today by nearly 1 billion adherents, mostly in India, but with large populations in many other countries. All of the Hindu denominations share a vast heritage of culture and belief: karma, dharma, reincarnation, all-pervasive Divinity, temple worship, sacraments, manifold Deities, the many yogas, the guru-nishya tradition, and a reliance on the Vedas as scriptural authority. The most important holidays in Hinduism are Diwali (November 6–9), Dussehra (October 18), and Holi Day (March 21). Students and employees may be absent during these holidays or unable to attend activities after school or work hours.


Please note that the exact dates for Muslim holidays can vary by a day or two and are subject to local sightings of the new moon. 

Islam is the complete submission and obedience to Allah (God). The faithful of Islam refer to themselves as Muslims. Every year, Muslims engage in a 30-day, sunup-to-sundown fast called Ramadan (May 16–June 14, 2018). When Ramadan occurs during the school year, schools and offices can best support fasting students and employees by helping others understand the nature and purpose of fasting, by voicing their own support for commitment to a goal, and by discouraging those who tease and challenge fasting students’ and employees’ commitment to the discipline. Eid ul Fitr (June 15, 2018) is a festival that celebrates the end of the Ramadan fast. Important Islamic observances that will take place during the school year include Hajj (Annual Pilgrimage to Mecca) from August 19 to 24, 2018; Eid ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) on August 20-21, 2018; and the Islamic New Year on September 11-12, 2018. Ashura is an important observance for Shia Muslims and will take place on September 20-21, 2018. Mawlid al-Nabi is the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and is observed on November 20, 2018. Students and employees may be absent during these observances or unable to attend activities after school or work hours.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian group who avoid practices that have come down from ancient nature religions as well as celebrations related to earthly governments; practically speaking, that eliminates all the holidays observed by other religious groups and the culture at large. They take very seriously their responsibility to witness to their beliefs, so even the youngest children are taught to refrain from engaging in conventional school celebrations. Some children are permitted to participate in class activities that focus on teaching about celebrations as an integral part of the instructional content. Jehovah’s Witnesses place very high value on education, are eager to support the school, and deeply appreciate ongoing conversation with teachers.


Judaism is an ancient monotheistic religion. The Torah, Midrash, and Talmud are the central texts of the Jewish faith. Jewish holidays begin at sundown of the previous day. In addition to an abstinence from work, people of the Jewish faith may observe some of these holidays with fasting, family gatherings, prayer, and attendance at synagogues.

  • Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown Sunday, September 9, and ends at sundown Tuesday, September 11. Jewish students and employees will be unavailable for school-related activities on Sunday evening and may be absent on Monday and Tuesday.
  • Yom Kippur begins at sundown Tuesday, September 18, and ends at sundown Wednesday, September 19. Jewish students and staff will be unavailable for after-school activities on Tuesday and will be absent on Wednesday.
  • Sukkot (Harvest Festival) begins at sundown Sunday, September 23, and ends at sundown Sunday, September 30. Students and staff will be absent from school/work during the first two and last two days (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah) of Sukkot.
  • Hanukkah is from December 2 to 10. Students and staff are generally not absent from school/work for this holiday.
  • Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown Friday, April 19, and ends at sundown Saturday, April 27. Jewish students and staff may be absent from school/work-related activities during the first two and last two days of Passover. During Passover, dietary requirements can be extensive and make some activities difficult for Jewish students and employees.
  • Shavuot begins at sundown Saturday, June 8, and ends at sundown on Monday, June 10. Some Jewish students and employees may be absent from school-related activities from Saturday evening until Monday evening.

Seventh-Day Adventists

Doctrinally, Seventh-Day Adventists are heirs of the interfaith Millerite movement of the 1840s. Seventh-Day Adventists are Christians who observe Saturday as their Sabbath, which begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday. Adventists follow certain dietary restrictions that include not eating pork and certain seafoods.

Note: Throughout the school year, members of Jewish and Seventh-Day Adventists families value public education highly and accept the fact that some school events will be scheduled during their Sabbath; however, schools serving Jewish and Seventh-Day Adventist students will want to avoid scheduling major events, such as proms and graduation ceremonies, at any time on Friday evening or on Saturday before 9 p.m.


  • Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. 5th St., Louisville, KY 40202
  • Hindu Temple of Kentucky, 4213 Accomack Dr., Louisville, KY 40241
  • Orthodox Church in America
  • Maqsood Ahmed, Ph.D., Board of Directors, Islamic School of Louisville
  • Matt Goldberg, Director of Community Relations, Jewish Federation of Louisville
  • Chabad