A district calendar centered on Christianity
December 19, 2022
Last January, the Hopkins School Board, a district neighboring Edina, approved a new calendar for the 2022-23 school year which includes days off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On Dec. 14, Saint Paul Public Schools’ Board of Education added the same holidays to the district calendar. EPS’s calendar, on the other hand, only includes a break for Christmas. Though students did not have school on the first day of Rosh Hashanah this year, it was due to a Teacher In-Service day, which Jewish faculty were forced to skip.
Amy Kampf, an AP Economics teacher at EHS who missed the Teacher In-Service day to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, noted hypocrisy in the way it was held. “It was specifically on the topic of inclusion and trying to make people of different groups feel more included. We had the same exact problem the year before. I know they were very aware of this when they scheduled it,” she said. “I think maybe just having had a different topic on that day so a group that was central to that topic wasn’t absent would have been nice, especially given that we have had antisemitic incidents here.”
Harlan Brand, a building substitute at EHS, also took issue with having a Teacher In-Service day focused on inclusion during Rosh Hashanah. “The only constructive criticism I have is that if you have days off for non-Christian holidays, don’t have a professional development day for the teachers. A day off should be a day off. You don’t have professional development days on Christmas or Easter,” he said.
Adrienne Berman, an Edina mom whose children are in elementary and middle school at EPS, voiced her concerns over the “Christian-centric” school calendar. “This year, gratefully, we had Rosh Hashanah off…But it’s actually a two-day holiday. So the second day there was school. And then for Yom Kippur, which is the 10th day in that stretch, and which is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, there was school that day, too.”
She would also like to see more acknowledgment of Jewish holidays by the school district. “When the school sent out a reminder that, ‘Hey, there’s no school on this day,’ it wasn’t like, ‘And by the way, happy New Year to our Jewish families.’ That would just be a really nice extra addition, and it’s not there. So many other school districts are moving towards not having school on these holidays,” Berman said.
Berman has become involved on the district level by reaching out to EPS principals and administrators to educate them about Jewish holidays. “I was working with the district, and every year I’d print out a list of all the holidays and say that the Jewish calendar goes by the moon, so the holiday starts in the evening and it’s actually the night before and the day of. That was something that was new to them and they were able to try to do some good work on there. But again, that’s information that they could have just found online…I don’t think anyone’s trying to be intentionally exclusive or hurtful, but I don’t know that we’ve yet taken a step of actively trying to incorporate [inclusivity] into the way that we live,” Berman said.
Despite not having official breaks, many Jewish students and staff take time off for the High Holy Days, the most important Jewish holidays which occur in the fall. “I miss [school for] Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Sometimes I take a morning off for Purim. I used to take off for Passover, too, but that just got to be a bit much,” Brand said. “I mean, they’re important holidays. But being a quantitative minority culture in America, no matter how legitimate it is, if you’ve taken so many days off, pretty soon you have all your days off.”
Junior Lilly Atar no longer takes time off for religious holidays because of the amount of schoolwork she receives daily. “Taking time off for religion was very important when I was younger. I took time off, for example, on Yom Kippur, which is the holiday of apology and forgiveness. I spent the day at the temple and fasted,” she said. “I think it’s very important [to give time off for different religious holidays], because in school these days, if you miss just one class, you’re behind by a lot of work.”
While EPS does not give time off for non-Christian holidays, district policy is to excuse absences and prohibit tests on religious holidays. “[The district policy] has been the case for the time that I’ve been here. We’ve just been more intentional and overt about it in the last couple of years,” EHS Principal Andrew Beaton said. “We always notify people about religious holidays, but now we’re actually putting that piece about there being no exam and no summative due date on those particular days [on the calendar], just because you have this many people in this building and so many teachers and sometimes they might forget. We don’t want any student that has to practice their faith and feels like they can’t do that comfortably because they have a big exam that’s important to them.”
Nevertheless, some students question the enforcement of that policy. “Technically speaking, there can’t be any quizzes or tests or projects due on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, but there still are. It’s in the school policy, but not enforced at all,” senior Sally Rendleman said.
Jewish students have also been met with varying levels of tolerance from teachers regarding taking time off for religious holidays. “I’ve had some teachers that have been super helpful and have made sure that I don’t fall behind. We’re also not supposed to work on the day of the holidays, so [some teachers] have been very understanding of getting me the work beforehand,” Rendleman said. “But then I’ve had other teachers that have refused to give me the work, and then I fall behind and don’t do well in the class.”
Freshman Samantha Kushins was glad that her teacher was willing to work with her regarding taking time off. She had a test scheduled on Yom Kippur in her AP Government class. “I talked to my teacher about it, and he was very understanding and he moved the test,” Kushins said.
Berman commented on the advocacy work she has had to do over the years for her kids. “I’ve had a lot of hard conversations with my kids about school or sport leagues or community events that are scheduled on times that are holy for Jewish people where we can’t participate in those things,” Berman said. “When my daughter was in kindergarten, there were field trips scheduled on Rosh Hashanah, so that was obviously a day that she missed. One year, the PTO scheduled the World Culture Night for Yom Kippur and that felt ironic. There have been school pictures and school carnivals on holidays,” she said.
Berman, however, notes that she is grateful for the “tremendous support” she has received from the district and other parents. “When I have reached out to organizations or schools to flag [issues], the response is typically, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re so sorry. How can we change this or how can we make this better?’” she said.
Although EPS’s 2022 calendar labels the break from December 21 to January 2 as “winter break,” students have noticed bias in how the break is addressed. “I feel like when it comes around to winter break, people don’t say ‘Have a happy winter break’ or ‘Have a happy holiday,’ they say ‘Have a happy Christmas break.’ And for people who don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s just a bit non-inclusive,” Kushins said. Rendleman agreed: “In general, teachers will say ‘Have a good Christmas break.’”