To: Hon. Brenda Wolff and Members of The Montgomery County Board of Education
cc: Dr. Jack Smith
Dr. Monifa McKnight
Mr. Troy Boddy
Dear President Wolff and fellow Board of Education members:
We write to you today in reference to your upcoming vote on the 2021-2022 MCPS calendar. We wish to bring to your attention a conflict in one of the two proposed calendars currently under consideration, which would negatively impact many members of the Montgomery County Jewish community.
About the JCRC of Greater Washington
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, (JCRC), represents over 100 Jewish synagogues, schools, social service agencies and other institutions throughout the greater Washington, D.C. region. Since its inception in 1938, the JCRC has been a leader in advocating for rights and protections for Jewish Americans and for all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or other identity. We champion the cause of the most vulnerable members of our society, through advocacy for our network of non-sectarian Jewish social service agencies, interfaith and intergroup outreach, and other legislative and grass-roots initiatives. Education outreach is a critical component of this work. An overwhelming majority of Jewish children in our region attend public schools; we work independently and in coalition to ensure that those schools are safe and welcoming for all students, and that all children have an equal opportunity to realize their full potential.
2021-2022 Calendar Proposals
A critical distinction between calendar Options A and B currently under consideration is that Option A has school beginning on August 30th, while Option B has September 8th as the first day of school. September 8th is also the second day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest festivals of the year for Jews, marking the beginning of the High Holiday period that culminates with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The Montgomery County Jewish community is deeply grateful to MCPS for its long-standing policy of incorporating school closures and/or professional days on minority-faith festivals such as the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid-al-Hadha, Eid-al-Fitr, and Lunar New Year. We are very pleased to see that both Options A and B recognize Diwali, a holy festival for Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains.
Typically, MCPS is open on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, with necessary accommodations being provided for those students and staff members who observe the second day of the holiday in addition to the first. Our concern lies only with the first day of school being scheduled on that second day of the holiday.
As you know, the first day of school is a critical milestone for students, parents, teachers, and other school staff. There is a primacy placed on everyone being present and in place at school on that day, for teachers and students to meet one another, for orientation to buildings and classrooms, and more. It would be a hardship for Jewish individuals to have to choose between observing their faith and attending the all-important first day of school. The burden could be especially difficult for Jewish faculty and other staff members; a teacher’s absence on the first day of school impacts all their students and having several teachers in one school absent on that day could present a problem for administrators and others.
We felt it important to bring this scheduling conflict to your attention. We have widely publicized to our community the opportunity to submit comments regarding the respective calendar options, and we hope many families and caregivers will respond.
We strongly encourage the Board of Education to adopt Calendar A, with an earlier start date of August 30th, to avoid this complicating conflict and ensure that Jewish students and their families, and Jewish faculty and other staff, do not have to choose between observing Rosh Hashanah and attending the first day of school.
Many thanks for your consideration.
Ronald Halber, Executive Director
June Trone, JCRC Board Member, Education Commission Co-Chair