Jewish Community Applauds Gov. Northam for Religious Sensitivity

JCRC Statement

Jewish Community Applauds Gov. Northam
for Religious Sensitivity

JCRC Urges Fairfax County Public Schools
to Increase Religious Equity

Washington DC—September 9, 2021 – The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington today thanked Virginia Governor Ralph Northam for elevating and recognizing the critical importance of cultural and religious sensitivity in our school systems. Governor Northam heard recommendations from a taskforce he appointed to determine how Commonwealth schools can increase religious equity. 

Virginia’s Task Force on Culturally Inclusive School Meals and Calendars today presented its final report to the governor at a meeting including Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, students, and members of the taskforce subcommittees on school meals and school calendars. 

“We thank the school boards and leadership of Arlington, Prince William, Loudoun Counties, and Falls Church City Public Schools for taking steps to ensure all students feel a sense of belonging in the classroom,” said JCRC Director of Intergroup Relations and Rabbi in Residence Abbi Sharofsky, who serves on the task force calendar subcommittee. “At no time of year is this issue more acute for the Jewish community than right now during our High Holiday season.”  

The calendar subcommittee recommended that Governor Northam create an Inclusive School Community Award to recognize exemplary PK-12 schools; require schools to implement and share policies explaining how they address cultural and religious holidays; include content on cultural and religious sensitivity in teachers’ required professional development; and fund the development of a cultural and religious sensitivity training for higher education faculty and leadership. 

Fairfax County remains one of the only counties—and by far the largest in Northern Virginia—that has not adopted an inclusive calendar. As we enter into the new school year, the JCRC urges Fairfax County Public Schools to adopt a more inclusive school calendar. Last spring the School Board rejected a calendar that would have included closures on days coinciding with four Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh holidays. Preliminary community feedback indicates that the current calendar is having a negative impact on minority faith individuals by sowing confusion without providing the equity sought by the interfaith community. 

“Jewish students, teachers, and families in Fairfax County are keenly aware that they alone among neighboring counties are being forced to choose between observing their holy days and attending school during this month of Jewish High Holidays,” said JCRC Associate Director Guila Franklin Siegel. “The JCRC will continue mobilizing the Jewish community of Northern Virginia to help Fairfax join its neighboring counties in becoming a place of deeper equity, empathy and justice for the minority faith community.” 

A grassroots social media campaign is sharing images and videos of students reflecting on their feelings and experiences about having to choose between celebrating the holidays and attending school, using the hashtag #FCPSfaithequity.