The Baltimore County School Board held a public hearing on Oct. 22, during which it heard input on proposals for the 2020-2021 school calendar, and on the issue of whether to keep schools open on Jewish and Muslim holidays.
The board is considering three proposals for school calendars, one of which would open schools before Labor Day on Aug. 31. Much of the hearing, however, was dominated by speakers asking the board to close schools on Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur and Muslim holidays like Eid-al-fitr.
“For the last three years, schools statewide had to start after Labor Day because of an executive order from Governor Larry Hogan,” said a report by wypr.org. This year, however, the legislature returned the authority to make decisions about the calendar to local school boards.
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, advocated for having schools closed for both students and teachers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In some past years, Baltimore schools have been closed for students on the Jewish High Holidays, but open for teachers to take part in so-called professional development days.
Libit argued that considering “how many teachers took off for the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur professional development days, it may give you a little bit better insight into the operational difficulties that are posed by this.”
He advised the board to keep the school closed for these days for both students and teachers, and also urged the board to keep the schools closed to extracurricular and sporting events on the High Holidays and the nights before those days.
Libit’s words were echoed by Sharon Saroff, who asked the board to find a solution that “includes giving back my Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so that my fellow Jewish teachers and students do not have to choose between getting the professional development that they so definitely need, and following their holiday and doing what they’re traditionally supposed to do.”
Saroff also argued in favor of closing the schools during major Islamic holidays. “That’s what my Torah teaches me,” she said. “That’s the way I was raised. And if I’m going to have my days off…they should be able to have Eid off, both of them. We can find a way.”
The board is expected to have a final vote on the calendar on Nov. 5.