Following more than an hour of discussion Thursday, the Howard County Board of Education approved Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose’s recommendation to maintain the decision to close schools on the Jewish High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the 2016-2017 school year.
Following a motion by board members Bess Altwerger and Dr. Janet Siddiqui, it also approved closing schools on the Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve, the Muslim Festival of the Sacrifice Eid Al-Adha and the Hindu Festival of Lights Diwali. The school system will bring options back to the board for consideration about whether schools will close for students only or for students and staff.
Foose’s recommendation also included a request for proposal to “study the impact of the range of religious observances celebrated in Howard County to inform the development of the 2017–2018 calendar that will be presented to the board in September.”
The 2017-2018 academic calendar committee will meet with representatives from several Howard County organizations including the Jewish Federation, the Muslim Council, and the Chinese Parent Association as well as members of the Hindu community.
Although the action was initially focused on the Jewish High Holidays, the majority of the board’s discussion centered on requests from several other religious groups.
Regulations state that schools can close only if the absenteeism during a holiday would create operational problems. With that understanding, several religious groups asked that professional development days — on which students are off and teachers use to further their own education — be adjusted to allow these groups of students to celebrate their respective holidays.
This latest request had to be balanced with prior requests from teachers about when they thought placement of professional development days would be most beneficial to their own needs.
“The purpose of the school calendar is to provide adequate time for teaching and learning, but we also try to address the unique desires of our community,” said Foose, in a written statement. “We heard from hundreds of community members and we value their input. We will do our best to provide options that ensure students receive a great education and have opportunities to celebrate their cultures and traditions.”