Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Baltimore County Board of Education voted 9-3 Tuesday in favor of an academic calendar that will keep schools closed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for the 2018 school year.
The controversial decision follows a month of debate from community members on an alternative proposal to keep county schools open on the Jewish High Holy Days for the first time since 1994.
“This isn’t about religion,” said board member Kathleen Causey, who voted in favor of leaving the schools closed. “It’s about balancing a very large, very complicated, and very diverse school system and community.”
Rosh Hashanah marks the first day of the New Year for the Jewish community. Yom Kippur, known as the “Day of Atonement,” is the holiest day and is traditionally observed with fasting and intensive care. Next year, the two holidays begin at sundown on Sept. 9 and Sept. 18.
An advisory committee originally proposed two calendar options for the 2018-19 school year. Option A, which was the committee’s recommendation, consisted of leaving schools open on the two holidays with an extended spring break.
The board voted in favor of an amended version of Option B, which was to keep schools closed on the High Holy Days but shorten spring break. One professional development day also was moved to June 5, which falls on the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr.
Jayne Lee, Baltimore County PTA president, said she was pleased with the board’s vote. During the meeting, Lee raised concerns about the potential liabilities for students and the related fiscal impact if schools remained open during the High Holy Days.
“We have about an average of 700 teachers out on a normal day and we have trouble finding substitutes for that,” Lee said. “We would need about 1,400-1,500 [teachers] during the holidays. There aren’t enough trained subs to go around.”
Approximately 18 percent of BCPS staff members identify as Jewish, according to a Sept. 26 statement by John Mayo, BCPS Chief Human Resources officer.
Critics of the approved version urged the board to consider the consequences of keeping schools closed on the High Holy Days.
Board member Stephen Verch voiced concerns for the low-income students who rely on free and reduced priced meals who would not be eating during the school closures.
“This is 2017, not 1994,” said Verch. “There is a way, with existing policies, for staff and students to not attend. Students on programs are not fed when the schools are closed.”
Students and faculty are protected by federal and state law if they miss school on religious holidays, which include Good Friday, Passover and the two Jewish holidays.
Tuesday’s vote falls in line with an executive order set last year by Gov. Larry Hogan, where school districts in Maryland are required to begin after Labor Day and end by June 15.
Officials said the requirements have placed restraints on many school districts as they struggle to maintain adequate instruction time while still accommodating for holidays and built-in snow days.