Portage Northern High School faces lawsuit over graduation date

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 7:23 PM EDT
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PORTAGE, Mich. (WILX) - A civil lawsuit filed by a high school senior may force Portage Northern High School to change its graduation day.

The student, who is Jewish, is unable to attend her graduation because it falls on a religious holiday, Shavuot. Her lawyers argue that the district and administrators violated their own anti-discrimination policy, the state’s civil rights act, the state constitution, and even the U.S. Constitution.

The student’s lawyer argues that the senior is unable to attend graduation due to her religious observance and has suffered “mental anguish, physical and emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment.”

The lawsuit also references a 2017 homecoming dance that was scheduled during Yom Kippur. The student’s family has sent letters to district leadership every year since 2012, reminding them not to schedule important educational activities during times when their children would be excluded from participating in religious holidays.

Rabbi Mordechai Haller explained that Shavuot is a pilgrimage Jewish holiday observed as the ‘time of the giving of the Torah.’

“It is a big holiday, in some ways. It’s not one day. It’s a two-day holiday, so it doesn’t take up as much. But for some reason, in the most secular world, it’s not as well known,” Haller said. “But it is an important Jewish holiday.”

The student’s lawyer is seeking to reschedule the graduation date, prevent this from happening in the future, and receive $25,000 in non-economic damages, along with court costs and fees.

The case is set to be heard in federal court on April 20th. A judge has issued a temporary order requesting the school to find a new date for graduation.

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