NAPLES — Collier County’s Jewish community got a victory of sorts Thursday during the Collier County School Board meeting.
While the board will most likely not reschedule games set for Yom Kippur this year, board members agreed that a policy should be developed to respect the rights of minorities and that the discussion should include respect for the major holidays of all religions.
“I am extremely encouraged by (Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo’s) approach to this policy matter,” said Rabbi Adam Miller, of Temple Shalom. “I think we are headed in a positive direction. It went from not being a topic to an agenda item to a future policy discussion.”
Miller approached the Collier County school Board members last week about issues the Jewish community was having with schools scheduling events such as tests and popular after school activities on major Jewish holidays.
After his discussion, board members requested that the issue be placed on the agenda, including a discussion of moving the football games from the night of Sept. 17.
Yom Kippur — the holiest day of the Jewish year — falls on Sept. 18. Since Jewish holidays go from sunset to sunset, the holiday of Yom Kippur begins with the ritual of Kol Nidre on the night of Friday, Sept. 17.
In Collier County, games scheduled for Friday, Sept. 17 include Palmetto Ridge at Barron Collier, Naples at Gulf Coast, Immokalee at Lely, and Gateway Charter at Golden Gate.
In recent years, the Lee County School District has recognized either Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur out of deference to the Jewish community.
This year, Yom Kippur falls on a Saturday, and Rosh Hashanah falls on Sept. 9, a Thursday.
Lee County is scheduled to play three games on Thursday, Sept. 16, instead of Friday, Sept. 17.
In addition to football, however, portions of the Jewish holiday of Passover will fall during the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) this year. The state sets the dates of the FCAT and the Florida Department of Education has instructed schools to allow students to make up the portions of the test they will miss.
Miller said it was situations like those that showed the district has a need to have an ongoing discussion on the impact these issues have on those who want to observe religious holidays.
“We’re asking you to respect all minorities,” said Steve Goldenberg. “My recommendation is that the board vote that no significant school events take place on major religious holidays.”
Board member Julie Sprague agreed.
“I think we need to be sensitive to all diverse groups,” she said.
Board member Steve Donovan disagreed, saying the district could get into trouble if it started making exceptions for all religious holidays.
“Football games, I understand being moved,” he said. “But if we are giving students every holiday off, we run up against issues with the amount of time students are expected to be in their seats, learning.
Curatolo disagreed with Donovan’s sentiment. She said the community members who came to the meeting Thursday were not asking for everyone to have all religious holidays off, but rather to look at major holidays.
“We have time off for Christian holidays. We don’t have school on Christmas,” she said.
Board member Roy Terry said he believed the issue should be the first one tackled by the district’s diversity committee, which is expected to meet for the first time this fall.
Curatolo also wondered if the district could reschedule its football games this year to accommodate those students who wanted to celebrate Yom Kippur with their families.
Superintendent Dennis Thompson said the district already has contracts in place for those games and that it would be too late to change the date.
“I am also not willing to have it rescheduled,” he said, citing reasons he brought up last week.
Thompson said last week that, in his experience, holding a football game on Thursday night means no work at school from tired students and staff on Fridays.
Thompson said there are 62 religious holidays for the different religions in Collier County School District. Making an exception for one religion would mean making an exception for all, he said.