Fairfax Couty school officials say that an accident of scheduling -- rather than a change in administrative policy -- may result in weekday graduation ceremonies next year.
This year's graduation ceremonies were surrounded by controversy when two Jewish students, Lynn and Susan Stein, unsuccessfully challenged the decision of school officials to hold commencement exercises' on the Jewish sabbath.
The girls, who are twin sisters, were students at Woodson High School, where graduation was held as scheduled on Saturday, June 7.The Steins claimed the timing of the ceremony violated their constitutional right to a free exercise of religion.
This past year, all of the county's 23 high school graduations were held on the Jewish sabbath, which extends from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
The procedure for selecting a graduation date is left up to indiviual principals, who are free to chose any day of the week providing several guidelines are met.
Each spring, Associate Superintendent Jacqueline Benson issues a memo to principals, asking them to submit in writing by July 1 a graduation date for the following school. year. The memo directs principals not to schedule the event earlier than four school days before the official end of classes. Because school officially ended this year on June 12, a Thursday, graduation ceremonies were held on the previous weekend in keeping with county custom that seniors be given a few extra days of vacation.
Next Year, however, ends on Friday, June 12, which means many principals may schedule commencement for a weeknight.
Several principals said last week June 12 would be a poor choice for graduation. It probably would bring protests from seniors who consider getting out of a school a few days before underclassmen an inalienable right, and it could cause difficulties in getting underclassmen to return to serve as ushers and bandmembers after the official end of school.
The date of Woodson's graduation is under scrutiny by an advisory committee, set up by principal Robert E. Phipps. Phipps said the advisory group, which includes members of the community and local religious leaders, is the result of a commitment he made last winter to the Stein sisters.