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Joint Call to Action from the JCRC and the Washington Board of Rabbis

The JCRC and the Washington Board of Rabbis are aware that MCPS has released five separate proposed calendars for the 2018-19 academic year, two of which do not include school closures for the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  We are very aware of the concerns many in our community have expressed and how this might impact students, teachers, and employees of MCPS.  We also understand that community feedback is being solicited over the next month regarding these varied options.  We are urging you to take actionand contact the MCPS school board.  You can view and see a detailed explanation of the various calendar options being presented by visiting the MCPS school calendar webpage.   

Background
As part of its extensive liaison work with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) on behalf of our local Jewish community, the JCRC has for several years been actively involved with MCPS and the calendar committee. In 2016 Governor Hogan signed an executive order mandating that Maryland public schools start after Labor Day and end before June 15.  To comply with the order, school systems must fulfill mandatory minimum “instructional day” requirements within a limited time frame from after Labor Day through mid-June.  As a result of these new rules, MCPS may be forced to restructure its calendar, which traditionally has incorporated school closures both on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. 

It is very important to note that as a matter of law public school systems are not permitted to close for any "religious reasons" – only for operational needs. Public school systems are also not allowed to ask students and employees about their religion.  However, Montgomery County is home to a large percentage of Jewish students, teachers, and MCPS employees, and when so many students, teachers, principals, and staff would be absent on a given holiday it has been necessary to close schools for economic and operational reasons.  For many years, MCPS has referred to these absentee reasons as the basis for closing schools on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. 

Action requested
The Board of Education will have this issue on its agenda FOR DISCUSSION ONLY at its next meeting on Tuesday, October 10th at 11:10am.   It will not vote on any calendar options until later this fall, likely in mid-November.

Before that vote occurs, MCPS is requesting comments and feedback from the community at-large regarding the five proposed calendars.  Whether you are an MCPS parent, teacher, or other employee, we strongly encourage you to send in comments through the drop box provided on the calendar webpage, to express your concerns about how keeping schools open on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will impact you, your family members’, or your students’ attendance at school on those days.  For example, it would be important to tell the board that your child will be unable to attend school on those days so that your family may observe the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.   If you are a teacher you may want to express to the board of education that for you to observe these two days, you would need a substitute for your classes.  We recommend you suggest that the board keep the current practice of closing on these days so that it does not impact attendance and staffing throughout MCPS.

The JCRC is in regular communication with the Board of Education and with MCPS staff relevant to this issue.  We will be reaching out to the MCPS Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Zuckerman, who sent this letter out about the development of the school calendar.   It appears that the County will be scheduling focus groups with external stakeholders, including the Montgomery County Faith Advisory Council, of which the JCRC is a part, to solicit different perspectives on how best to design the school calendar.  We intend to request that JCRC be a convener for one of these focus groups, to ensure that our community’s concerns and interests are taken into account on this issue. 

We will keep you apprised of further developments as warranted.  Meanwhile, should you have any questions please feel free to contact either JCRC’s Director of Maryland Government and Community Relations, Meredith Weisel, at mweisel@jcouncil.org, or JCRC’s Director of Education Outreach, Steven Adleberg, at sadleberg@jcouncil.org, Director of Education Outreach. 

Chag sameach to all!