Five years after two Jewish seniors at a Fairfax County high school filed suit in an unsuccessful attempt to change their Saturday graduation date, Fairfax County officials are ending weekend commencements.
Lynn and Susan Stein, twins, honor students and valedictorians of their W.T. Woodson High School class, objected to the date because it fell on the Jewish Sabbath, which they believe should be set aside for worship.
After negotiations with school officials failed, they filed suit in Fairfax County Circuit Court. A Virginia state judge ruled the graduation date did not violate the Steins' religious freedom because attendance was voluntary.
In the end, the Steins dropped their six-month battle, which at times had made them the target of anti-Semitic remarks and threats. They passed up graduation and instead walked to a synagogue -- an hour from their home by foot -- for Sabbath services. Their Orthodox Jewish faith forbids work, or even travel in automobiles, on the Sabbath.
Fairfax County changed its commencement policy the year after the Steins' 1980 graduation. The choice of a graduation date, which had been up to the school principal, was narrowed to one of three dates, although Saturdays were not excluded. This year, the policy was changed again to schedule all graduations on June 6, a Thursday. The county's policy is now that all graduations at the county's 23 high schools be held at the same time and during the week.
Daniel W. Jackson Jr., human relations director for the county schools, said officials "became more acutely aware" of religious sensitivities because of the Stein case, but he said it was not the only factor in the change.
Lynn Stein, now 23 and finishing her first year of medical school, said she is glad graduations will no longer be held on weekends. "I always thought it was a shame they had to waste $20,000 in legal fees to keep two kids from going to their own graduation." Her sister Susan attends nursing school in Canada.
Five years later, Lynn Stein is not angry, and "I definitely would do it again," she said. "We felt it was something we should take a stand on."