Two Orthodox Jewish students at Fairfax County's Woodson High School filed suit against their school principal yesterday challenging the scheduling of their graduation ceremonies on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
Susan and Lynn Stein, twins who are honor students and valedictorians of the senior class at Woodson, contend that Principal Robert E. Phipps is preventing them from attending commencement by scheduling it for June 7.
Their suit filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court said the schedule "inhibits, interferes with and degrades" the Stein's religious beliefs and asks the court to shift the ceremonies to another day.
The Steins' Orthodox Jewish faith dictates that the Sabbath be set aside for worship. They also observe the religious ban on riding on the Sabbath and walk 45 minutes one way to their synagogue every Saturday.
Phipps could not be reached for comment. Another defendant in the suit is the couny School Board, which late last month turned down a request from the students to change the date.
At that time, the board was advised by an attorney against granting the request. "You can't play favorites among religions . . . If we amend the policy . . . we're going to have to accommodate" other religions, the attorney, Harry Rossetta, said according to a transcript of the closed board meeting.
"Given the pluralism that exists in Fairfax County. I just don't know what other days would exist," Rossetta said at the meeting.
Michael Hausfeld, the Steins' attorney, calls Rossetta's argument "an excuse, not a reason."
School Board members are "being almost childlike about this," Hausfeld said yesterday. "They act as if they make this small change somehow their whole schedule will just fall apart."
According to Kate Kinny, Woodson High School's student body president, the plight of the Stein sisters has evoked sympathy among other seniors.
"I think they have a perfect right to ask that graduation be changed. They used to have graduation on Sundays -- I guess they moved it from our Sabbath to theirs," she said.