Baltimore County Public School officials are currently involved with deciding the calendar for the 2017-2018 school year. Three calendars have been proposed. A noteworthy aspect of the potential schedule change is that one of the three proposed calendars suggests that school will be in session on Rosh Hashanah, which falls on Spet. 21 and 22 in 2017. (Yom Kippur is irrelevant, as it falls on a weekend in 2017.)
“School systems can only close on religious holidays for operational reasons,” explained Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “They cannot close just for religion. For county schools, they do not ask students about religion, so we have to use data available about absences on the holiday to justify schools closing on that day.”
Libit said that there are roughly 12,000 Jewish children under 18 in the area. Although he cannot say what percentage are in private schools or are under 5 years old, he believes that it is reasonable to conclude that a large percentage of those students will be absent on Rosh Hashanah.
Another statistic he cited is that last year, nearly 240 teachers in the county missed work on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. A significant portion of Baltimore County teachers are Jewish, and Libit believes that these teachers must be more religious than the others. Therefore, he concluded that a much more significant portion of school employees would be absent on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, as it is more common to practice on that day.
With the logistical challenge and operational issues that would arise from having to find substitutes for so many teachers, Libit is confident that a strong case can be made for closing schools on Rosh Hashanah next year for operational reasons.
“I think the facts are on our side, and the community is with us and supportive,” he said. “A number of board members who I spoke to were supportive, and I hope they are swayed by our arguments and the numbers.”