The JCRC Applauds Decision by Three Northern Virginia School Boards to Close Schools on Religious Holidays

JCRC Statement

Washington DC —Dec. 4, 2020 – The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington today applauded the Arlington County School Board and the Loudoun County School Board for voting to adopt academic calendars for the 2021-2022 school year that will close schools on days coinciding with major religious observances. Arlington County last night voted for a calendar with school closings on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr, and Diwali, and Loudoun County earlier this week adopted a calendar with days off on Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr, and Diwali. The JCRC also commends the Prince William County School Board, which last month adopted a calendar with all four closures. These long-sought adjustments reflect school leaders’ recognition of the growing diversity of Northern Virginia’s population.

The JCRC coordinated an interfaith effort, comprised of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, to advocate for these changes. The coalition urged the three districts and the Fairfax County Board of Education (which has yet to vote on its calendar) to provide for these public school closures to foster learning environments where all students feel that they are valued and treated fairly. 

In response to the recent school board decisions, JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber said, “We applaud our local School Boards for their efforts to ensure a safe, welcoming learning environment for Jewish students and the increasingly diverse student bodies in Northern Virginia, and we look forward to similar results in Fairfax County. We are grateful for school leaders’ substantive, good-faith partnership in achieving this meaningful change.”  

The additional school closures will benefit regional school systems by easing administrative burdens and scheduling conflicts, eliminating student and employee absenteeism, and reducing faculty-student tensions regarding religious accommodation. They represent a significant step towards achieving equity and inclusivity for public school students and teachers of diverse religious backgrounds and identities.

“Jewish students experience intense pressure to forego sacred Jewish observance during the fall High Holidays, and often feel penalized for their religious practice,” said JCRC Associate Director Guila Franklin Siegel. “The newly adopted closures will provide relief for thousands of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh students and families in Northern Virginia and nurture an academic environment that is equitable and understanding of diverse cultures and practices.” 

The JCRC works extensively with regional school systems to address school-based anti-Semitism and other issues impacting Jewish students and families. The agency partners with administrators, Board members, teachers, parents and students, and works in interfaith coalition to ensure that all children feel safe and valued in their learning environments and have an equitable opportunity to succeed.