High Holidays on Chopping Block for Baltimore County Schools

The Baltimore County school system’s Greenwood Campus at 6901 Charles St. in Towson. (Photo by David Stuck)

Baltimore County may keep schools open during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 2018.

The school board’s calendar committee, which is tasked with making recommendations to the superintendent, is considering the elimination of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as days off from the 2018-19 school year calendar, according to a letter the Baltimore Jewish Council emailed Sunday.

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 and concludes the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 11. Yom Kippur starts at sundown on Tuesday, Sept. 18 and ends on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 19. The committee prefers keeping schools open on the High Holidays, according to the BJC letter.

School officials grappled with the idea of opening schools on Rosh Hashanah for the 2016-17 academic year (Yom Kippur fell on a weekend) but ultimately decided against it.

The school board will be presented with two calendar proposals for the 2018-19 academic year on Oct. 24 during its second meeting of the month. Option one would continue the current practice of closing on state-mandated holidays and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as has been the case since the 1995-96 school year. The other option, however, would call for schools to open on the two Jewish holidays, which drew criticism from the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Dolores Pierorazio, a county spokeswoman for the school system, declined to answer which calendar proposal, if either, the calendar committee prefers, writing via email, “The school board has not made a decision on either.”

Under the U.S. Constitution, public schools are not allowed to close for religious holidays. Schools can only close if opening would cause a disruption because of high absenteeism among students and teachers.

The BJC argued so many teachers, principals, staff and students would be absent for the High Holidays that “it makes sense to close for economic and operational reasons.”

“Would the school system be able to find enough substitute teachers?” the BJC said in its letter. “At what cost to the school system and county taxpayers? And how does one quantify the cost of two days of lost learning for thousands of Jewish students in the Baltimore County public schools?”

BJC executive director Howard Libit told the JT Tuesday about 250 Jewish teachers called out on the second day of Rosh Hashanah a few years ago, though he couldn’t recall the exact year. Based on those numbers and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s 2010 community survey, Libit estimated there are as many as 1,200 to 2,000 Jewish teachers in the county school system.

At a school board meeting on Sept. 26, John Mayo, chief human resources officer for the school system, said approximately 18 percent of county school staff members identify as Jewish. If they all requested time off, Mayo noted, between 700 and 1,200 substitutes would have to be hired to cover their absences.

Citing the The Associated’s data, Libit estimated there are more than 12,000 Jewish students living in the county; he thinks many of them attend public schools.

The school board is scheduled to hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 at the school system’s Greenwood Campus at 6901 Charles St., Towson, to gather input from community members.

This story has been updated.


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