Last week, the Northborough, Southborough, and Regional school committees were presented three potential versions of next year’s calendar. If one of the alternate options is adopted, it would change how the schools treat three religious holidays.
According to a message from the Superintendent, they will collect feedback from families and educators before a decision is made.
Superintendent Gregory Martineau message in Friday’s weekly update explained:
Before voting on a calendar, I asked the school committees what information they would need to make an informed decision. They asked that I collect input from stakeholders (families and educators) over the next two months to share with them. I want to emphasize that the school committees have not approved a 2023-2024 Student Calendar.
The development of a student calendar requires a tremendous amount of consideration. The following key questions are part of the decision-making process: What factors should leaders consider when deciding whether or not to honor religious observances? How do we balance the needs of students to participate in their religious traditions with laws that require students to attend school a specific number of days a year to get a quality education?
We must be open-minded and flexible in determining how to balance educational, logistical, and cultural objectives in deciding whether or not to close for religious observances.
This year, none of the versions explore changing the vacation schedules. Instead they focus on considering how to handle religious holidays and election days. One alternate calendar option would eliminate the observation of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Good Friday. Another would use them as Professional Development days.
The three draft versions each start on the same day (August 30th for students and the 28th for teachers).
The version that mirrors this year’s calendar would get out on Wednesday, June 12th or later. (As always, one day would be tacked on for each school cancellation.) The other two versions would finish the year two days sooner. (It’s not a big difference, but would make it less likely that storms would push school into the following week.)
The draft calendars being floated are:
- Draft A – Follows the same pattern as this year. Religious holidays remain and professional development days are scheduled on election days.
- Draft B – No religious holidays are observed. Professional development days are scheduled on election days.
- Draft C – Professional development days are scheduled on Yom Kippur and Good Friday. If possible, school facilities will not used for elections to avoid interruptions to the calendar.
Although the message shares the draft calendars, there is no mention of how the public should/will be asked to provide feedback.
This isn’t the first time the administration has considered calendar changes, including the holiday questions.
Back in 2014, the possibility of eliminating the three religious holiday observances was raised by then-Superintendent Charles Gobron. At the time he pitched that students would be allowed to take those days off for religious observance.
In respect of religion, coaches and teachers would be advised not to hold tests or matches on those dates. He warned that if they didn’t eliminate the Jewish and Christian holidays, growing Muslim and Hindu populations could argue for future inclusion of their holidays.
That proposal was scrapped after there was public outcry about children having to choose between religion and school/sports. In 2017, the topic was raised again by then-Superintendent Christine Johnson. A survey issued that fall provoked a strong reaction from a minority of the community.
Although only about 12% of those surveyed in 2017 year were strongly opposed to a change, that was also the group most passionate about the issue. One committee member observed that nothing in results indicated the majority felt strongly about eliminating the holidays, and no one attended the Combined Committees meeting that fall to advocate for the change. That persuaded the school committees and administration to again drop the issue. (Instead, the committees focused on studying how to handle Professional Development days.)
However, earlier that year, the committees approved a change to the schools’ policy for calendar revisions to make it easier to tackle dropping the religious holidays if they choose to in the future.
Meanwhile, in recent years a different issue has added to the complexity of the calendar – security concerns.
Since voting in Southborough and Northborough takes place in our schools, the district had made major elections Professional Development Days. In June, the committees voted on a revised calendar that kept students out of school this year even on primary and Town election days. (Professional Days are scheduled in November and May this school year. The State Primary on September 6th was a day off.)
Past surveys have also looked at the potential for changing vacation schedules. That’s something not proposed in the outlined drafts this year.