Maine school department removes Jewish holidays from school calendar

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 6:49 AM EDT
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LEWISTON, Maine (WMTW) - The Lewiston School Committee has decided to remove the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana from the school calendar as official school holidays.

Schools in Lewiston were closed for those two days for the first time this fall after the committee voted last spring to add them to the calendar.

Monday night’s vote to revert to the old calendar was 5 to 4. The committee did not discuss the Muslim holiday Eid, which was also added as an official school holiday this year. At least 40% of students in the Lewiston School District come from immigrant families, most of which are Muslim.

Superintendent Jake Langlais recommended removing Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana citing results from recent surveys. He said 72% of people in the community who responded to the survey said they did not want to keep them as school holidays. Staff members were fairly evenly split and students who responded were heavily against keeping them as school holidays. Adding the holidays did extend the end of the school year by two days.

Langlais said there is no formal data about how many students and staff celebrate Jewish holidays, but he estimates it is a very small percentage of the school population. Committee members opposed to eliminating the holidays argued that the department needs to be more inclusive.

Langlais did note that even without schools being closed, students and staff can take days off for religious observation without penalty.

David Allen, President of the Temple Shalom Synagogue Center in Auburn sent the following statement to WMTW in response to the action by the committee:

“The Temple leadership would prefer that these Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, be recognized. However, as this does not impact a lot of people, we certainly understand the Board’s decision to have school in session on these days. Of course, as a school Board member said, if someone takes those days off, they should be able to without an issue or problem and this should be a written policy of the school board. Further, a policy like this should extend to ALL religions, not just Judaism.

“We certainly understand that extending the school year by a couple of days in June, can be problematic and that it is important to get the school year started without too many days off.

“Lastly, we would ask that tests, field trips and other special events not be held on religious holidays, of any religion, so that students celebrating those holidays, who do take the days off, do not miss out.”

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