A school district in Maine announced that it is removing the High Holy Days as official school holidays on its school calendar, reversing a decision made during the spring, WABI reported.
Only months ago, the Lewiston School Committee voted to add Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to the school calendar as official days off school. This fall, for the first time, schools in Lewiston, Maine were closed for both Jewish holidays.
On Monday night, the district voted for return to the old calendar, removing both holidays. The measure passed 5 to 4.
The committee did not discuss removing the Muslim holidays of id al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, which in January were made paid days off by the committee.
The delisting of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from the school calendar was advocated by Superintendent Jake Langlais who cited results from recent surveys he said found that 72 percent of community respondents reportedly did not want the High Holy Days to stay as school holidays. He also alleged that a majority of students agreed with the delisting, as the two holidays extended the school year by two days.
Langlais told WABI that there is no official data on how many students and staff are Jewish but he estimated that the number was a very small percentage.
The committee members who were against the move said that it violated the committee’s policy of inclusiveness.
The Lewiston Jewish community said that while it understood the change, as there are very few Jewish families in the area, it was concerned that Jews were being singled out as the policy did not apply to other religious groups.
“The [Temple Shalom] leadership would prefer that these Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, be recognized,” said David Allen, president of the Temple Shalom Synagogue Center in Auburn in a statement to WMTW. “However, as this does not impact a lot of people, we certainly understand the board’s decision to have school in session on these days. Of course, as a school board member said, if someone takes those days off, they should be able to without an issue or problem and this should be a written policy of the school board. Further, a policy like this should extend to all religions, not just Judaism.”
Allen added: “We certainly understand that extending the school year by a couple of days in June, can be problematic and that it is important to get the school year started without too many days off.”
However, he called for religious holidays to be treated with care, so that important school dates did not fall on days when students might have to take off for their faith.
“Lastly, we would ask that tests, field trips and other special events not be held on religious holidays, of any religion, so that students celebrating those holidays, who do take the days off, do not miss out,” Allen said.
The committee members who voted against the move criticized the decision as being unfair to Jewish students and staff.
Board member Lynnea Hawkins said that recognizing different religious holidays may take rescheduling but stressed the need to be inclusive.
“Yes, there are some growing pains. But that doesn’t mean you stop growing. It means you tough it out, get used to something different. And you keep going,” Hawkins told the Bangor Daily News.