Can a school interfere with your religious beliefs?

WSVN — If you are religious, you take your obligations seriously. For example, in some religions, you cannot do certain things on religious holidays, like drive to school. But can a school make you withdraw for following your religious beliefs? To find out, one woman called Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

They are Orthodox Jews, strict followers of Jewish law who you can see walking to their synagogue on the Sabbath and religious holidays because of their beliefs.

Chaya Bruck: "You can’t do anything electric, you can’t drive your car, can’t use your phone. You can’t turn on a light, nothing. Can’t write, so many things you can’t do."

Chaya Bruck is a member of the Shul of Bal Harbour and also a college student at West Coast University in Doral.

Chaya Bruck: "I’m in college to get my bachelor’s in science and nursing, and hope to continue to get my master’s."

Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot fall during the current school term, religious holidays that required Chaya to miss school. And before she enrolled, she wanted to make sure that would be OK.

Chaya Bruck: "The admissions advisors, they reassured me they would work around my schedule."

Chaya was happy that she would be allowed to miss class for religious reasons, and so the mother of one, pregnant with her second child, started at West Coast.

Chaya Bruck: "It was good. I’m enjoying school. It’s hard, but I’m working hard. It’s a lot of work."

Then the dean wanted to talk to her.

Chaya Bruck: "And she said, ‘We can’t accommodate this schedule. There is no way you can take off this many days.’"

Chaya says she told the dean she had to have the religious holidays off.

Chaya Bruck: "You realize there is nothing I can do! I’m religious and it’s not even like a commitment. She said, ‘Can you get out of it?’ No, it’s not the way it works."

Chaya says she was told to sign a form that she was leaving the school and would not finish the term at West Coast University.

Patrick Fraser: "So, you are no longer in school?"

Chaya Bruck: "I’ve been withdrawn from the system completely."

Needless to say, Chaya was stunned. She says her friends miss the same days for religious observance at their schools and it’s not a problem. But it was at her school…

Patrick Fraser: "But you are basically being asked to choose between your faith and you class?"

Chaya Bruck: "Right, and faith obviously comes first."

Well, Howard, can a student be removed from school because they take off their religious holidays?

Howard Finkelstein: "In a public university, no, but this is a private school, and federal law doesn’t protect the student. The university can force the student to withdraw if their religion requires them to miss more days than their policy allows. However, Miami-Dade County law does prohibit religious discrimination in private schools, and if attendance is not necessary to learn the material on that date, the school cannot remove you."

I called the dean at West Coast University, who Chaya says told her she had to withdraw. She never returned my calls. Then the university’s executive director contacted me. Dr. Joshua Padrone said their policy says a student could not miss more that 30 percent of the classes no matter what the reason. That’s six classes. He added Chaya did not miss that many. That this was just a misunderstanding and she would be allowed to return to school immediately. When I asked if religion had anything to do with the request to withdraw, Dr. Padrone said, "We do not discriminate," then added, "I know, because I am Jewish."

Chaya Bruck: "Patrick got in touch with the higher-ups and the dean called me and said I am being reinstated."

Back in school, back on track. Just what she wanted when she called Help me Howard.

Chaya Bruck: "It really helped, really nice."

Glad everything was cleared up and everything worked out for Chaya and the school. Now, Broward has the same law as Miami-Dade to protect students’ religious beliefs.

Getting schooled trying to solve a problem? Want to make them show some class? Contact us. Howard and I aren’t scholars by any stretch, but we will work religiously to help you out. With this Help me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Federal: Religious discrimination in employment & public accommodations:  http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/religion.cfm

Federal: Religious discrimination in housing:  http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_discrimination

State: Religious discrimination in employment, public accommodations & housing:  http://fchr.state.fl.us/fchr/complaints__1

Miami-Dade County: Religious discrimination in employment, public accommodations & housing :  http://www.miamidade.gov/humanrights/

Broward County: Religious discrimination in employment, public accommodations & housing:  http://www.broward.org/Intergovernmental/Pages/EmploymentHousingDiscrimination.aspx

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
E-mail: helpmeHoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN
On Twitter: @helpmehoward7