GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

August 7, 2013

Jewish holiday won't alter school opening

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — As Gloucester students prepare for school this year, their Jewish classmates will also be ready for the first of two Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, which falls at the start of the school year.

But School Committee members who approved the coming school year’s schedule this past winter say the schedule will likely remain as is now, with the learning year fast approaching and state testing slated definitely for mid-May.

“We generally don’t give too much weight to (scheduling around) religious holidays because they’re so unpredictable as to who they’re important to,” School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope said. “It’s really kind of getting the learning days in before the middle of May.”

When School Committee members decided on the calendar in February, Rosh Hashanah did not arise as a topic of discussion. But Pope said that, while the school system plans to crack down on attendance this year — and with a new attendance officer in place — any absence from school due to religious reasons would still earn an excused absence with no penalty for missing the day.

“With religious holidays in general, it’s an excused absence for the students, but we just have to schedule the days anyway because otherwise we would just be having too many holes in the calendar,” Pope said.

Each year the School Committee approves a schedule, then comes to an agreement on that schedule with the teachers’ union. The committee carefully plans vacations and start dates that allow for enough learning days prior to state tests in May.

The Good Friday holiday often sparks a discussion as to whether to schedule a day off, or at least a half day. The result of that discussion for the coming Good Friday was not immediately available Tuesday.

Rosh Hashanah, whose date changes each year as it is based on the lunar calendar, begins with the blow of a shofar this year on the early evening of Sept. 4 – the first day of school — and continues through the following day.

And while high school students might even rejoice at the opportunity to delay the school year’s start for another day, even two, the first partial week acts as an adjustment period for the younger kids. But, according to Pope, since there are three days of adjustment with less time spent on serious learning those days, it is probably as good a time as any for a student to miss a day.

The first week of school begins on a Wednesday, leaving three days in that week, with all of those days set aside for mostly orientation, assessing students and settling in for the younger grades, according to Pope.

“There’s not a lot of critical learning going on that week,” Pope said. “It’s more collecting data, getting kids oriented to the schedule, and allowing them to adjust.”

The Gloucester School Committee typically schedules the school year to begin after Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 2 this year. The Manchester Essex Regional school district and the Rockport district both start school before Labor Day this year, both beginning on Aug. 28.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.