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Jewish High Holidays Removed From Mansfield Public Schools 2013-14 Calendar

The Mansfield School committee voted 5-0 to approve a calender that does not give students the day off for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

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.”

Robert Pepe February 27, 2013 at 12:26 PM
I guess the separation of church and state only applies to the Jews
Julie February 27, 2013 at 01:04 PM
Is anti-semitism alive and well in the Mansfield Massachusetts School Committee members? Why were only two people allowed to speak with a third drowned out by the gavel? Was the school committee's plan to silence the Jewish residents of Mansfield by not letting them speak? Why all of a sudden are the Jewish High Holy Days unimportant? Why wasn't information available for other religious days that are "days off" in Mansfield? How does the School Committee know if it is still legally necessary to have those days off? Will Jewish students be penalized for missing school and tests or will they be excused from all homework and tests on those days? A solution would be to have school on all religious holidays, but have it as an excused absence. When I lived in the Atlanta area, which had a large Christian population, this was the policy of the school district and it worked. No discrimination toward any student and their religion. There were many questions to be answered, but the people were silenced. Very disturbing and disheartening!
Mollie Miller February 27, 2013 at 01:10 PM
Last night display by the School Committee was nothing short of a disgrace. I attended the meeting anticipating an open and honest discussion of whether to have school on Rosh Hashana and instead was greeted with a statement that the school committee had consulted legal counsel to determine if Rosh Hashana met the qualifications for a day off from school and they determined that it did not. We were also told that only one voice could be heard regarding this issue, instead of permitting the tax paying residents their say as the committee has permitted in many other instances. When asked for a definition of "day of low attendance" none was given. Considering there had been no school on Rosh Hashana in Mansfield for seven years, I question how the committee is sure that the day does not qualify as a "day of low attendance" when it seems like that is an arbitrary determination. The following discussion of whether to hold school on Good Friday was equally disgusting. The discussion was focused more on people being able to start vacation early and get cheaper airline tickets. Seven years ago the School Committee decided that the Jewish population in Mansfield had grown enough that it was an important to close school on the highest of religious holidays. Since then the Jewish population in Mansfield has grown significantly in size, not decreased. Last night the school committee took a huge step backwards.
HJ February 27, 2013 at 01:24 PM
How many days do you want kids to have off?
Tina Silverio February 27, 2013 at 01:40 PM
In all honesty, I don't believe it's anti-Semitism. It's a narrow-minded view, begun and supported by Federal govmt, that the Christian calendar is what the country was based upon, etc etc. Not exactly what you'd call "separation of church and state". but that's what it is- I don't believe for a minute that it's anything personal, ***RUDE*** as it was the SC chairman's treatment of anyone wanting to comment at last night's meeting.
Julie February 27, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Howard, I believe there should be no religious days off. Hence, separation of church and state. However, the Mansfield School Committee had chosen to give both the Jewish High Holy Days and Good Friday off as religious holidays, but now hides behind legal council to deem the Jewish High Holy days as unimportant. The solution is easy. No religious days off. Each student should be allowed to take their religious holiday as an excused absence.
melinda February 27, 2013 at 01:56 PM
Sounds like a horrible attempt to alter the school calendar. School starts late, ends late and this can be fixed. Not by taking away Jewish religious holidays, but by altering teacher contracts so that school can start early. Mr. Levine is absolutely correct...this would NEVER happen on a major Chrisitan holiday. It is disgusting, rude and disrepectful. And to not let your residents voice their opinions speaks volumes. Seeking legal counsil was a cowardly way to handle the situation. Maybe residents should seek news media.
Tina Silverio February 27, 2013 at 02:28 PM
Agreed, Faith.
Concerned Voter February 27, 2013 at 02:37 PM
I hope at least 5 other people run for school committee next year because those 5 just lost my vote. Whether or not you agree with how they voted, the decision to shun discussion and debate is disturbing. The people have a right to be heard.
Sunsetover02048 February 27, 2013 at 02:40 PM
What about Ramadan? Kwanza? Have school on all religious holidays and let families decide whether or not to send their kids. We have enough days off as it is..Can't cater to everyone so cater to NO ONE.
Concerned Voter February 27, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Unfortunately that debate was not allowed at the school committee meeting. Rather than hear from the voting population, and base their votes on open conversations with the voters who showed up the meeting, the School Committee made their own decision and did not consider input from their community. Shame on them for not allowing open communication on a subject matter as important as religion. I will respond with my vote during the next round of elections. I encourage others to do the same.
HJ February 27, 2013 at 04:54 PM
That's what I mean. Once you allow Jewish holidays, some other person with a different religion will hire the ACLU and sue the school system to allow their own religion. Just keep your own kids home if you want them home for a Jewish holiday. The kids have to go to school a certain amount of days, correct? Do you want your kids having school in July due to observing Jewish, Muslim, Eastern Russian Ortohodox & Festivus holidays?
Concerned Voter February 27, 2013 at 05:47 PM
Howard, Your comment "Once you allow" is curious? The school committee already had that day off on the calendar the previous seven years and during that time the Jewish community has grown in this town. Before making changes that affect any group in the community, we should be allowed to discuss these in open forum. This is a terrible misuse of power.
HJ February 27, 2013 at 06:06 PM
Understood, C.V. but the parents can keep their kids home. Yom Kipper is only one day so keep them home. You won't make everyone happy.
Concerned Voter Too February 27, 2013 at 09:28 PM
Howard is clearly misinformed and quite ignorant about Jewish Holidays. Yom Kippur is NOT the only High Holiday. I would ask Howard how he would feel if schools were open on Christmas, Easter or Good Friday - the highest of the Christian Holidays?
Rev. Ted Newcomb February 28, 2013 at 03:42 AM
I was out of town when this issue came before the school board otherwise I would have gladly attended and would have been pleased to stand in solidarity with my Jewish friends. My insight as a local Christian pastor is simply that all religious traditions should be treated equally in order for fairness to reign. The issue should never be related to "just how many will be missing" on any given day but the policy should be based on equal treatment. I would therefore wholeheartedly endorse: 1) The revocation of religious holy days as days off from school, and, 2) An excused absence for students who must be away for religious reasons. I believe this is a sane and sound approach which focuses on education while simultaneously demonstrating respect for those adhering to religious traditions. This policy would not be an affront to any faith group and would make good sense. When one tradition is impacted unfairly it can send a very wrong message that feels prejudicial even when that was not the intention.
Tina Silverio February 28, 2013 at 04:29 AM
i agree.
Julie February 28, 2013 at 04:40 AM
I also agree. Thank you Rev. Newcomb. Hopefully the School Committee members will consider your words and revisit this issue.
Debbie February 28, 2013 at 02:00 PM
Being a Jewish person growing up in Rhode Island, we had one day off for Rosh Hashana (a 2 day holiday) and one day off for Yom Kippur when they fell on school days. There was a very small Jewish population there at the time and it was before all this political correctness. The reason was simple, there were many teachers who were Jewish and it made sense financially to have those days off rather than hire a bunch of substitutes. I live in Foxboro and we do not have any Jewish holidays off at all. However next door in Sharon, they do because of the large Jewish population. Yes, I totally agree there are alot of ignorant people who know absolutely nothing about religions other than their own. For example, I was at Target in December and the cashier said to me that "Hannukah is just another way of celebrating Christmas" But, this is typical as Hannukah is made out as such a big deal commercially (in the last 40 years) because it falls at around the same time as Christmas. Many non Jewish people just make assumptions because they are not taught much about Judaism in Sunday School. If people know I am Jewish and ask me how my Hannukah was, I don't say much. I would have something to say if they asked how Rosh Hashana or Passover was. Nobody EVER does. Maybe if people understood the importance certain Jewish holidays are to the Jews this would be a non issue.
Debbie February 28, 2013 at 02:00 PM
BTW Howard, were you being funny when you mentioned Festivus? Because that "joke" really minimizes the importance of other peoples faiths. But, to give Howard credit, he must be a friend of the Jews if he watches Seinfeld.
Brian Zive February 28, 2013 at 02:11 PM
In an effort to take my personal bias out of the issue, I would like to know the benchmark used by the superintendent to determine if "the school district can give a day off if...the day in question will result in low attendance by students or teachers." What percentage of absentees warrants a day off? 5%? 10%? I'm a data analyst. I'll analyze attendance data for the town pro bono. I would love to see what it reveals! The government does not track religious preference in the census, so we simply don't know how many Jews live in Mansfield. I suspect it's a much greater percentage than it was seven years ago, the last time school was held on the Jewish High Holy Days.
lucy February 28, 2013 at 05:33 PM
we should just wait and see til september and see how many kid and teachers will miss school and than we will have the answer we all want ... if its a minimal amt than they have no choice but to take those days and put them back on the schedule..i for one feel bad teh kids get out so late when we use our snow days ...
Kitchen Sink TV February 28, 2013 at 07:19 PM
Easter is always on a Sunday and Christmas is a Federal Holiday and local school committees have no jurisdiction over that. As for Good Friday, I am with you unless you attend a Catholic school, then you practice holy days of obligation.
Julie February 28, 2013 at 09:22 PM
The solution is easy. A no days off policy for all religious holidays. The students will have their absence excused for any religious holiday. The concern seems to be that school year is ending too late. School can end 1-4 days earlier by eliminating all religious holidays, including Good Friday. As Howard above said, the parents can keep their children out of school. In turn, they can observe their holiday in their place of worship, for this would be the purpose of your child's absence.
Debbie February 28, 2013 at 11:55 PM
The solution of a no days off policy is simply not feasible. How many people would be going to school on Christmas? But that doesn't matter, now does it? Now, as one poster said, Christmas is a Federal holiday so nothing can be done about that and Easter falls on a Sunday. But there is no excuse to not have school on Good Friday if the Jewish holidays have been erased of importance.
Julie March 01, 2013 at 12:32 AM
Debbie, I must apologize for not being clear. I did not mean Christmas. I meant the days off for the Jewish High Holidays and Good Friday. I really should have said 1-3 days. Sometimes the Jewish Holidays fall on the weekend so the days gained by canceling these days off could vary every year. As I stated in a prior post, this was the policy in a school district my kids attended in Atlanta and it worked.
HJ March 01, 2013 at 12:39 AM
Amen, Debbie. I'm catholic and i think it's nuts to have Good Friday off.
Harlee Nason March 01, 2013 at 03:06 AM
What people are not realizing is that Rosh Hashana falls on the second day of school. The first few days are crucial in terms of adjustment and social connection. It puts Jewish people in a position of having to choose between obiding by the high holiday or jeopardizing the child's adjustment to school. That's not a fair choice!
Debbie March 01, 2013 at 11:59 AM
Harlee, you are absolutely right! My oldest just started Kindergarten this year and I did not want to pull her out so early in the school year. But as she gets older and attends religious school she will have to miss at least one day.
Brian Zive March 01, 2013 at 12:16 PM
@Harlee, @Debbie, I understand why it's difficult to withhold children from attending the first day of school. Yet these are the compromises the Jewish community will have to make in order to make the point that the Jewish population in Mansfield is much greater than the school committee and the superintendent's office perceives. The data has to be there. And it's fair to say that throughout history, Jews have faced much more difficult decisions than keeping kids out of the 1st or 2nd day of school.

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