18 • Texas Lone Star • December 2013
may not require or suggest that
students use religious symbols
in their work.
Q: Can our students perform religious music as part of
a seasonal performance?
A: Yes, as long as the music
is selected on the basis of its
cultural or artistic value and
not for a devotional purpose.
A school district may include
religious literature, music,
drama, and arts in its curriculum and in school activities
when the material is intrinsic to
the learning experience and is
presented objectively. 14
Q: Can students opt out of
participation during classroom
activities related to particular
A: Yes. These requests are
made for both academic and
non-academic activities during
the holiday season. Parents
may temporarily remove their
children from classes or school
activities that conflict with their
religious or moral beliefs by
providing the teacher with a
written statement to that effect.
However, the removal may not
be to avoid a test or for an entire semester, and the exemption from instruction does not
exempt the child from grade
level and graduation requirements. 15 In addition, a school
district must excuse a student
from attending school for the
purpose of observing religious
holy days, including traveling
for that purpose. A student
whose absence is excused to
observe a religious holy day
may not be penalized for the
absence and must be allowed
a reasonable time to make up
the school work missed. If the
student satisfactorily completes the school work, the day
missed will be counted as a day
of compulsory attendance. 16
Don’t let legal restrictions
turn you into a Scrooge this
holiday season. By follow-
ing these guidelines, you can
express appreciation to your
district’s employees and allow
students to experience the
holidays while staying within
the bounds of the law. If
you have any legal questions
about this article or any other
legal issue, feel free to call the
toll-free TASB Legal Line at
1Op. Tex. Att’y Gen. No. MW-68 (1979).
2Tex. Att’y Gen. LO-94-067 (1994).
3Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 180.007.
4Tex. Att’y Gen. LO-96-136 (1996).
5See Tex. Penal Code § 36. 10 (
establishing an exception to the prohibition on
gifts to public servants for items with a
value under $50).
6See Altman v. Bedford Cent. Sch. Dist.,
245 F.3d 49 (2d Cir. 2001) (rejecting
lower court’s findings that celebration of
Earth Day taught earth worship).
7Tex. Educ. Code § 29.920(b).
8Morgan v. Swanson, 659 F.3d 359 (5th
9Hedges v. Wauconda Cmty. Unit Sch.
Dist. 118, 9 F.3d 1295 (7th Cir. 1993);
Rivera v. East Otero Sch. Dist., 721 F.
Supp. 1189 (D. Colo. 1989).
10Compare Walz ex rel. Walz v. Egg
Harbor Twp. Bd. of Educ., 342 F.3d 271
(3d Cir. 2003) (upholding school’s restric-
tion on distribution of candy canes with
religious messages during class party
organized as instructional time) and
Morgan v. Plano Indep. Sch. Dist., No.
404CV447, 2007 WL 906453 (E.D. Tex.
Mar. 22, 2007) (approving a school dis-
trict policy that permitted distribution of
nonschool material only at designated
11Tex. Educ. Code § 29.920(b).
12Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668
(1984); County of Allegheny v. American
Civil Liberties Union, 492 U.S. 573
13Tex. Educ. Code § 29.920(a); Sch. Dist.
of Abington Twp. v. Schempp, 374 U.S.
14E.g., Bauchman v. West High Sch.,
132 F.3d 542 (10th Cir. 1997) (finding
no Establishment Clause violation when
a school choir performed a mix of religious and secular music and performed
occasionally, but not exclusively, in
churches); Doe v. Duncanville Indep.
Sch. Dist., 70 F.3d 402 (5th Cir. 1995)
(singing religious music in choir class did
not establish or endorse religion when it
was not performed as religious exercise);
Florey v. Sioux Falls Sch. Dist. 49-5, 619
F.2d 1311 (8th Cir. 1980) (upholding a
Christmas program that included both
religious and secular elements).
15Tex. Educ. Code § 26.010.
16Tex. Educ. Code § 25.087(b).
Leslie Story is a TASB Legal
Services senior attorney.
Legislative and Legal Update
Tyler • February 13
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For more information, visit legal.tasb.org/training or call 800.580.5345.