Should Public Schools Close for Religious Holidays? [POLL]
Just yesterday, the Hunterdon Central board adopted their calendar for next year that includes Rosh Hashana, the Jewish High Holyday, as a full day of school.
Naturally this was not met with enthusiasm by some of the board who voted in favor of closing schools for the day.
It happens every year and in every district; and if not for the Jewish High Holydays, then for the Muslim holidays, Hindu holidays, etc.
Should public schools be closed for religious holidays – especially if there are a number of students from different religious backgrounds who have the need to commemorate their holidays?
Hunterdon Central High School will be in session on the Jewish high holy day of Rosh Hashana next fall.
The board voted 7:2 yesterday, Jan. 27, to adopt the 2014-15 calendar recommended by Superintendent Christina Steffner and the district’s Instructional Council. The calendar calls for Sept. 25 and 26, the two days of Rosh Hashana to be school days.
New board member Lori Blutfield and one-year veteran Paul Ransavage were the only members to vote against the measure. Blutfield chastised the board for not honoring the tradition of closing the school on at least one day of the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and asked her colleagues to “return to a precedent set over 20 years ago .”
Blutfield noted that she had been elected with 2,000 votes and defeated her opponent two to one, “because I was running on a platform of change.” The public does not believe the board listens anymore or acts transparently, she said.
Before being elected in November, Blutfield had lobbied hard to get the board to close school on the Jewish holidays and had presented the board last spring with a petition signed by more than 550 people who sought the same.
Board member James Davidson pointed to the evolving diversity of the community and said he couldn’t support celebrating one religion over another. The Instructional Council had come up with an alternative calendar that recognized the holy days of six different religions, which made honoring each in a single school year burdensome. It added four additional days off per year over the next five years, he said. “The Jewish population is a very small population,” he said. “It’s not fair to anybody else.”
Board President Claire Curry and member Kathy Raborn agreed.
"The community is more diverse now than 20 years ago," Curry said.
By extension, the state is more diverse now than it was 20 years ago – and the idea of closing schools for each and every religious holiday flies in the face of the Governor’s initiative to lengthen the school year.
Unfair though it would seem, I’ve suggested before and suggest again that schools remain open for all religious holidays; and those students whose families commemorate certain holidays be given as excused absence for the day.
This way no one gets treated unfairly.
Will this fly? Probably not, but it's worth the suggestion.