When Mansfield students head to class during the 2013-14 school year, they will not get the Jewish High Holidays off for the first time in seven years.
With a vote of 5-0, the Mansfield School Committee approved next year’s calendar which does not give students the day off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
With input from the school district’s legal council, the holidays were removed since it didn't fit the legal criteria for an off-day. Legally, the school district can give a day off if it serves a secular purpose, meaning it is believed having school on the day in question will result in low attendance by students or teachers. according to Mansfield Superintendent Brenda Hodges.
This year only one of the holidays will be observed on a weekday. Rosh Hashanah will take place on Thursday, Sept. 5 while Yom Kippur falls on Saturday, Sept. 14.
Members of the Mansfield Jewish community were on hand for the decision, asking the committee to reconsider the proposed calendar.
Co-President of Temple Chayai Shalom in Easton and Mansfield resident Lewis Levine criticized the decision, stating to force Jewish students to choose between observing the holidays and going to school is similar to having class on a major Christian holiday.
“We respectfully ask that you embrace the cultural and religious diversity in the Town of Mansfield and treat the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as you would Christmas and Easter,” Levine said to the school committee.
Mollie Miller was allowed to speak under the condition that her statement was brief and was different than Levine’s.
“I’m a little offended how you lumped the Jewish community together and asked for one person to speak as if we only speak with one voice,” Miller said.
Miller also said she felt offended at the use of legal council to decide to remove the day as a school holiday, stating it should be given off as a matter of respect.
Committee Chairman Michael Townbridge defended the use of legal council, clarifying that the committee went to their attorney for guidance to establish their calendar, not to find a way to remove the Jewish High Holidays as days off for Mansfield students.
A third person tried to talk but was not recognized by the committee. An attempt by the person to talk directly to the audience was drained out by Trowbridge’s gavel.
Committee member Kiera O'Neil proposed to take Good Friday off the calendar but some members of the committee felt there would be too many student out of school to observe the holiday while Hodges was unsure of the results of having school on that day.
“It’s been a long time since that’s (classes on Good Friday) occurred in Mansfield so I don’t know if I could give you accurate guidance on that. I would be speculating,” Hodges said.
When it was suggested that the school committee should take a look at nearby communities that have held school on Good Friday, committee member Wayne Smith said he would like to see the statistics from the last time Mansfield held school on the holiday to get a better idea of what the results would be.
“I would like to see what the cost was the last time we did do that. I think that’s going to be a pretty good sign of what is the cost,” Smith said.
Hodges said she believes that school was held on Good Friday to make up for missed days because of the weather about 10 years ago, which resulted in a large amount of students and teachers missing school.
After the unanimous vote to approve the calendar, Townbridge stressed that the decision was not a statement towards the Jewish community, but rather the result of the legal guidelines that must be used to create the calendar.
“It is not our intent to punish anybody,” Townbridge said. “It’s not our intent to be disrespectful to anybody. It’s just certain laws and rules we have to follow.”