If the calendar committee of Baltimore County Public Schools has its way, BCPS schools may remain open on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur next year for the first time in more than two decades.
In a news alert dated Oct. 1, the Baltimore Jewish Council informed Jewish community members that the Baltimore County Board of Education is currently deciding between two calendar options for the 2018-2019 academic year. One of the proposals would have schools closing for the High Holidays, while the other calendar would keep them open. The calendar committee is recommending the latter.
The two calendar options being considered were confirmed by D. Mychael Dickerson, chief communications officer for BCPS.
County residents concerned about this issue can make their views known at the next BCPS Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the BCPS’s Greenwood Campus, 6901 N. Charles St., Building E, in Towson.
Alternatively, residents can express their opinions by emailing board members at firstname.lastname@example.org. The board is scheduled to vote on a calendar for 2018-2019 at its next public meeting on Oct. 24.
BJC Executive Director Howard Libit said he sent the email to constituents because he feels that some people in the community “might have strong feelings” about the change. He said he wanted to make sure that the community is aware that a new calendar was being proposed and voted on.
Libit stressed that the decision to close the schools on the holidays was not religiously motivated. “The courts have ruled that public school systems are not permitted to close for ‘religious reasons,’ only for operational needs,” he said.
In the past, “there was a large number of Jewish teachers and students,” Libit said. “There was trouble finding substitute [teachers], and a number of schools had very few teachers and students attending on the High Holidays.”
Libit said he believes that the proposed calendar changes are due, in part, to Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to open Maryland public schools after Labor Day and close them for summer vacation by June 15.
“Also, because next year is an election year, and schools will be closed on Election Day, that makes the school calendar even tighter,” Libit said. “I get it. But if there’s a trade-off between keeping schools open [on the High Holidays] and having a five-day spring break and keeping schools closed [on the High Holidays] and having a four-day spring break, I think we should keep schools closed.”
Although there is no hard data showing how many Jewish teachers currently work in the BCPS system — the school system is not allowed to ask faculty or students about their religious affiliations — Libit said he believes the number is sizable.
“The best data points to how many [Jewish] teachers took off the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah two years ago. That number was 250,” he said. “Those 250 were probably only15-20 percent of all the Jewish teachers in the school system. Conservatively speaking, there are probably between 1,200 and 2,000 Jewish teachers in Baltimore County.”
If schools are open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Libit said it would result in the need for a high volume of substitute teachers at great cost to the school system and taxpayers in the county. Depending on their level of religious observance, Jewish students who observe both days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would stand to lose as many as three academic days if the new calendar is adopted.
Libit said between 12,000-14,000 Jewish students live in the county. He noted that some attend independent schools. “But many of those kids attend public school,” he said. “There will be a major impact.”
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