Lee County’s Jewish students will once again be out of school in recognition of a major Jewish holiday next year, while Collier’s students will attend school and play sports games as in years past.
Leaders for each district came to different conclusions during recent discussions about whether to recognize Jewish holidays for the 2010-11 school year by taking days off and rescheduling athletic events.
At an education subcommittee meeting Monday afternoon in Collier County, Yom Kippur became a topic of discussion.
Members of the Jewish community came to plead for consideration of Jewish holidays when the district created its calendar.
“That would include the evening before, because our events happen to start at sundown the night before,” said Naples resident Beth Pavlow.
Football games are planned for the Friday evening before Yom Kippur, and those coming to the committee wanted those games rescheduled. In Lee County this year, no public schools played football games on the Friday night before Rosh Hashanah, but Collier County’s high school teams played on.
“Jewish children could not be expected to participate or attend,” said Naples resident Ann Jacobson, who also suggested that teachers be informed of the dates that Jewish holidays fall to ensure that they did not schedule exams or projects that the students would miss if they were attending religious services.
As for rescheduling games to accommodate Yom Kippur, Superintendent Dennis Thompson said Monday it wasn’t going to happen.
“Friday night lights is a tradition here. The games were rescheduled when I first arrived to the Thursday before and parents complained their students couldn’t attend college night,” he said. “There are 62 religious holidays for the different religions in this community. Which do you take and which do you not take?”
Thompson said the district has to try and find a balance and manage the calendar as best it can. He said the district did manage to coordinate that Jewish students would have Passover off and that Christian students would have Good Friday off.
A consensus was reached by Lee’s Instructional Calendar Committee on Monday, ending the deadlock over whether to recognize Rosh Hashanah with a school day off.
After committee members approved the day off, teacher Carolyn Gora gave her own thumbs up. Gora does not sit on the calendar committee, but she put two children through Lee County schools, and said in the past, before the district recognized any Jewish holidays, her own children were penalized for missing school on those days.
“They had tests on that day, they were not eligible for perfect attendance,” said Gora. “As a teacher, I was penalized too, because I did have to take a personal day.”
The eighth meeting of the committee since October landed on the fourth night of Hanukah. As Rabbi Jeremy Barras, of Temple Bethel of Fort Myers pointed out, Hanukah does not carry the same sacred weight as Rosh Hashanah, a day of reflection for the people of his faith.
“There’s no other way to do it than to be in a synagogue,” said Barras. “Hanukah is not a time for introspection, but Rosh Hashanah is a time for standing humbly before God.”
Barras was one of many people to e-mail the district in recent weeks to appeal to the calendar committee, said human resources Director Gregory Adkins. The vast majority of those e-mails were supportive of giving students Rosh Hashanah off.
In recent years, the Lee County School District has recognized either Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur out of deference to the Jewish community. On years like this year, when Rosh Hashanah fell on a Saturday, students got Yom Kippur off, which fell on a Monday. In years where both holidays fall on a weekday, students typically get Yom Kippur off and attend school during Rosh Hashanah.
In 2010, Yom Kippur falls on a Saturday, and Rosh Hashanah falls on a Thursday.
On a recommended calendar that the Collier School Board will vote on, students do not have Rosh Hashanah off for the 2010-11 school year.
In 2009, Collier County joined the majority of 57 districts across the state that did not give students the day off for Yom Kippur; Lee County, on the other hand, gave students that day off.
Alternately, all but six districts, out of 67, will give students the day off for Good Friday, a Christian holiday not recognized as a federal holiday such as Christmas. The majority of districts taking Good Friday off will roll it into spring break, either dismissing students at the end of the day on Thursday before spring break and taking Friday and the following week off, or marking Good Friday as the last weekday of spring break before resuming classes. Collier is one of those districts.
To better manage the various days requested off each year, Lee County School Board Member Jane Kuckel, a member of the calendar committee, suggested creating a “task force” that would examine every non-federal holiday and day off before creating the 2011-12 school calendar. That would include hurricane make-up days and staff training days, she said, which would be subject to recommendations for changes by the task force.