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By Terry Dean
Should District 97 recognize Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in its school calendar as a religious holiday?
The question was a topic of discussion at the Jan. 8 D97 school board meeting. Board member Bob Spatz broached the issue during the board's discussion about the upcoming school year calendar — the board approves the new calendar every spring.
The board did not approve next year's calendar nor did they make any decision about recognizing the two Jewish holidays moving forward. D97 currently does not recognize the two Jewish holidays, which concerns Spatz, who noted that D97 does typically have Good Friday as a day off.
"Last year we decided not to give Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as religious holidays because it didn't affect a lot of people and it was mid-week, said the two-term D97 board member.
Spatz said he was "troubled" by the fact that the two Jewish holidays are treated differently than Good Friday. Spatz noted that D97 has traditionally given Good Friday off and has adjusted its calendar to fit the national recognition of it. Spatz, however, wouldn't mind having a non-religious day off in April for students, but the current reasoning behind Good Friday, he says, doesn't make sense.
"If we want to have our policy that we always give the third Friday in April off to break up April, I can live with that, knowing that that means only once every [few] years that's going to be Good Friday. But the idea that you would institutionalize Good Friday I find problematic, especially when that wasn't the rationale that was used for the Jewish holidays," he said.
"If the Jewish holidays fell on a Thursday night and Friday, would we then say, OK, it's a Friday, we'll give them off this year? Or because it's September, it's too close to the beginning of the year and we won't give them off?" Spatz added.
Joanne Schochat, D97's assistant superintendent for human resources and general counsel, said the district could take Good Friday off but for a secular purpose, as you would for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Schochat noted a couple of northern Illinois school districts that close during the Jewish holidays because so many students and staff don't show up on those days.
Oak Park and River Forest High School doesn't have those holidays off either but allows students and staff, with prior notice, to miss those days in school. Attendance among students and staff in one of those districts was so low during that time that it disrupted instruction, Schochat said.
But that doesn't appear to be the case in D97, the board and administration noted. The D97 board normally does not discuss and take action on an agenda item at the same meeting. The calendar item was referred back to the board's committee, which will make a recommendation at a later regular board meeting.