Local media: Packed school committee meeting on calendar changes

by beth on January 31, 2014

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District school committees held a discussion on proposed changes to the school calendar at their combined meeting Wednesday night. Telegram & Gazette reports that about 35 people “packed” the meeting. According to The Metrowest Daily news, the majority were expressing displeasure at proposed changes.

In December, Superintendent Gobron shared proposed changes to the 2014-15 school calendar with the committees for their review. At that time, he requested the topic to be put on the January 29 meeting for discussion. He subsequently posted an explanatory memo and request for community feedback on the district website.

The critical change to the calendar would be eliminating Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Good Friday from the list of school holidays. Instead, attendance would be optional and teachers and coaches would be asked to not schedule tests or meets on those days.

Local media report that residents complained the changes would be a sign of disrespecting their religion. Comments included likening it to holding school on Christmas and Easter and concerns that in other towns the directives to respect the holidays don’t work. T&G reports:

[Local rabbi Rachel Gurevitz] said she has heard of students who stay out of school on those holidays being given large amounts of homework and athletes not being able to play because they missed practice.

MWDN reports that about a dozen people made comments. Most of them spoke against the changes while about another 15 audience members nodded heads in agreement. Some story quotes:

“We’ve been here before,” said longtime Northborough resident Jonas Goldenberg, who said he remembers when the decision was made to institute the holidays.

“It really feels like it’s moving back in time to (when) people weren’t sensitive to the religious beliefs of others.” . . .

Rachel Lipkin, a teacher in Southborough, said her fourth-grader son asked her to speak up because he felt it would be “really scary” to choose between school and his religion.

“The choice just isn’t a fair thing to put on young children,” she said – a comment echoed by several others.

The item wasn’t put to a vote last night. MWDN reports on next steps:

Susan Dargan, chairwoman of the Northborough-Southborough School Committee, suggested the three committees get their policy subcommittees together and try to make one unified recommendation to take back to their respective boards.

A date for that meeting was not set, but Dargan said it would be a public meeting that will be posted soon.

Click here for the MWDN article. Click here for the T&G article.

[Editor’s Note: The T&G article stated the Jewish holidays have been observed since the 70’s. My memory as a student here in the 80’s was that those holidays were optional, with most students attending. Superintendent Gobron confirmed that the change was made in the mid 90’s.]

1 minimom February 1, 2014 at 3:56 AM

Well, then you just start school before labor day like we’ve been doing (since the 1990s or earlier).and tick off the vacation crowd. I say – get rid of February vacation or shorten it if you want to get those last few days of vacation in during August.

2 Amy February 1, 2014 at 11:43 AM

It amazes me that there is all this sentiment but NONE of them were part of the calendar committee. Easy to complain when you do none of the work. Christian and Jewish children are not the only ones who make up our districts and it is unfair to give certain children holy days off and not others. Completely disrespectful to those children but apparently that is of no concern.
Re: getting rid of Feb. vacation, as I understand it, we are in a group with about 15 other districts and with athletics etc, our major breaks must coincide with the districts’ breaks.

3 Messianic Jew February 1, 2014 at 12:19 PM

I think the 5000 pound gorilla in the room is being missed here folks. One fella comments it is like going back in time and like having school on Christmas or Easter. Folks your Christian neighbor is not the challenge. The challenge is Gobron’s own words. It is only a matter of time until the muslim demands their holidays as well. Once they hit the 5% population that is when the demands start. It is repeated in every western nation. Not my words, but printed all over Google. So think about the context of Gobrons presentation, not my words , but his. I guess the best solution is to leave it the way it is. But many of the newer Americans do not want to take time off to watch their kids. I don’t blame them really, but his is our culture and our country and as the Aussie prime minister recently stated, “don’t come here to change our country if you don’t like it stay where you are and work to change your own country”. Please don’t mistake this for “if you dont like it go back to where you came from” or it is not meant to be rude or disrespectful but I think it a very well given point. Because really it is about the changing demographics of America. But the folks that are coming here need to accept our customs and culture or stay where they are to work and change there circumstances there. After all folks, there has to be a reason why son many from India, China and the Middle East want ot come to a great country and we welcome them However, they need to assimilate and change to our customs the other other way around. Don’t you all agree? I mean when I lived in Germany for three years I did not try to make my lady friend shave her body just because we do that here in America. They don’t do that in Europe and for the most part the rest of the world, I had to adapt and accept their ways.

4 SB Resident February 3, 2014 at 10:04 AM

I find this comment to be very ironic. Getting the jewish holidays as days off from school is very much NOT part of the customs and culture of America. It is exactly how you describe it. In locations where the percentages got high enough, the jewish people demanded the days off.

Personally, I agree that if the percentages get high enough, the days should be given as off. 5% isn’t the number though, maybe something more like 15% and I don’t think the jewish population in Sboro is that high. (though I really don’t know)

The new schedule is much better and if it were put to a vote, I bet it would win in a landslide vs this years.

If I were in charge, I’d go back to 185 day schedule, combine winter and spring break into one in March. Pres day would still be off and Dec 24 wouldn’t be.

5 M February 1, 2014 at 12:31 PM

This is a far more complicated discussion on the place of religion is this country, than just whether or not these holy days should be honored. We are becoming a much more diverse religious community here in Southborough, a minor reflection of what is happening throughout the U.S.A. The decisions that we make will either be (and I make no judgements here either way) that
1. We are a country founded on Christian values and we choose to honor those in all facets of our life and laws, first and foremost.
or
2. We are a country founded with a yearning for Freedom of Religion. We respect all religions and want to treat them the same, as long as their teachings do not break our laws, harm others or impose on the rights of our citizens.

So, do/will our Southborough school policies treat all religions equally? Can we afford one religious holy day/holiday for each religion represented in our community? Muslim, Hindu, etc.? Are atheists and agnostics equally served by our decision? Do these failed attempts in other communities to “lighten the load” on holy days, have an indepth sensitivity training or follow-up and recourse for those who ignore the intent?

Let’s build a comprehensive policy that is fair and not just “pack” a meeting.

6 resident February 1, 2014 at 8:25 PM

February vacation is needed to clean the schools of all the illness that has been circulating in the winter months. Ask any of the school nurses and they will all tell you that. The kids get the break to get illnesses out of their system and the janitors get a chance to clean the schools of the germs. We need that break.

7 Southborough Mom February 4, 2014 at 7:49 PM

Here’s an idea: The school system could give kids two “personal holidays” each school year that could be used only for religious holidays. Kids would not be marked absent on those days. Parents would have to write a note for the excuse to be valid. As suggested in the current proposal, the school system would not give tests or have sports meets on those days. Teachers and administrators would be educated about the new policy so situations like the ones Rabbi Gurevitz described would not happen.

It’s not perfect. Nothing is. There will always be teachers and students who break the rules or take advantage of the policy. But that’s life.

PS: I also don’t like having February and April breaks. I’d much rather have a week off in early March and then maybe a long weekend in late April. We could get 3 more days back that way – which would offset the number of snow days we have to deal with!

8 ken s February 5, 2014 at 12:46 PM

Having moved here a few years back I am amazed at the amount of days of school mass schools take. I think the expense is the summer break which becomes increasingly reduced. I think that it is much better to increase the school summer break and reduce all of the disruptions to the school calendar. I like the idea of keeping events away from those days and then permitting parents to make a reasonable call on attendance. that seems like an accommodation for all. However, I am sure people will complain because that is what we do. I think making this about religions is really overplayed.

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