The United States Congress and the President have enacted a provision of law requiring every educational institution receiving federal funds to “hold an educational program” on September 17 of each year in observance of “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.”1
- “Educational institution” is a broad term that includes preschools; elementary, middle, and high schools; and institutions of higher education.
- The requirement applies to all public educational institutions in California.2
- The requirement also applies to any private educational institution that receives federal funds.
- Private educational institutions that do not receive federal funds are nonetheless encouraged to conduct an observance.
- When September 17 falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday – as is the case in 2005 and again in 2006 – the observance may be held at any time during the preceding or following week. Each educational institution may individually select the specific date.3
- The specific nature of the “educational program” is left to the discretion of each educational institution.4
- The observance is to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.
- 1 Section 111 of Division J of Public Law 108-447, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005,” December 8, 2004; 118 Stat. 2809, 3344-45 (Section 111).
- 2 Technically, the observance requirement does not apply to a public educational institution that receives no federal funds. However, to the best of our knowledge, every public educational institution in California does receive federal funds of some type.
- 3 When September 17 lands on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, a local governing body, such as a school district’s board of education, may select an appropriate date for observance that will apply to all of schools under its jurisdiction.
- 4 Here, too, a local governing body may set criteria or guidelines for the educational program that apply to the schools under its jurisdiction.
To assist educational institutions in complying with the requirement to observe “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day,” the California Department of Education (CDE) offers the following non-binding recommendations:
- The opportunity created by the educational program should be used to deepen students’ understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the responsibilities of citizenship.
- As many students as possible should participate in the educational program, recognizing that practical limitations may preclude some students from participating.
- The educational program should be aligned with and reinforce California’s History-Social Science Content Standards and, as appropriate, the English-Language Arts Content Standards. (Please see the Resources page.)
- The educational program may be integrated within the day’s normal instructional activities.
- Faculty in appropriate courses (e.g., history-social science and English-language arts) may point out the significance of the day and incorporate a related lesson, discussion, or assignment.
- There is no need to incorporate references to the U.S. Constitution and responsibilities of citizenship in every class. A “force fit” of such references in classes where they are out of context is unnecessary.
- The educational program may be in the form of an assembly or other gathering (or perhaps multiple gatherings) of students. If an educational institution’s decision is to approach the educational program in this way, the CDE provides the following recommendations:
- The assembly or gathering should be coordinated, as appropriate, with subjects or themes that are being studied by some or perhaps all of the students.
- The assembly or gathering should take advantage, as appropriate, of students’ efforts and talents.
- The information presented is accurate, recognizing, for example, that some complex concepts may be simplified for age-appropriateness and that respected literary works may take dramatic license with historical events or characters.
- There should be some accountability for the time spent in the assembly or gathering, perhaps through follow-up discussion, homework, or assessment.
- A significant amount of money need not be expended to prepare or implement the educational program. In fact, the federal law specifically does not authorize funds to carry out the observance requirement. Moreover, instructional materials and other resources useful in learning about the U.S. Constitution and the responsibilities of citizenship generally are plentiful at virtually every educational institution.
- In future years, appropriate advisory groups should be consulted in developing the educational program, such as advisory groups composed of teachers, administrators, support personnel, parents and guardians, and/or students.
- Maintaining some record (even if informal) of each year’s observance may be advisable, even though there is no specific requirement to do so.
- Because of the particular timeframe for this observance, consideration should be given to incorporating in the educational program, as appropriate, references to the California Constitution (originally developed and adopted during September-November 1849) and California’s admission to the Union (September 9, 1850).