Wednesday, November 28, 2012

HILLSBOROUGH: Residents raise objections to school calendar 

 The second day of the Jewish high holy day of Rosh Hashanah, Friday, Sept. 6, may not be the first day of the 2013-2014 school year as the calendar currently proposes.

   Residents attending Monday night’s Board of Education meeting objected strenuously and the school board will reconsider its earlier decision.

   ”I believe the 2013-14 calendar for the school year should be revisited and revised,” said resident and former district teacher Toby Kansagor in the public comment session. “Sept. 6 is a Friday. I do not believe this meets the needs of students. It is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar. It is insensitive and insulting to the Jewish community. Parents and students will be forced to make a choice between religion and the first day of school.

   ”Teachers will have to figure out how to handle it for those who miss. How will you deal with teachers who miss?”

   Teachers are required to give five days notice before taking a personal day. She wondered how that might be handled before school starts.
   ”The choice of this day as the opening of the school year is insensitive,” she continued. “Think of the example you are exhibiting.”

   Resident Bonnie Kohn strongly agreed. “It is appalling to me that we are having this conversation in 2012.” She said she is a teacher in Somerset County.

   ”The point is, I would hope we have come far enough that we can be sensitive, respectful. To open these schools on Rosh Hashanah would be akin to asking students to come to school on Christmas and Good Friday,” she said. “Nothing is going to be accomplished. The first day of school is organized bedlam. Nothing is going to happen on that day that could not happen on Monday. There are some things that are wrong. It never should have come to the table or been discussed as an option.”

   Noting that the student population is growing more diverse and many different religious holidays need to be considered, resident Shangar Nandra said, “You as a Board of Education member have to come up with the criteria on what religious days the school should be closed. I hope you will give us your feedback” (on how the decision was made).

   Board President Thomas Kinst responded, “I cannot comment on how the calendar was put together in the past. There are a lot of constraints.”

   He said schools must start in September; there must be in-service days for teachers; and, there are constraints on extending the school year into the summer.

   Also considered is whether there would be a large portion of the student body and teaching staff absent.

   He noted there is now only one snow day this year when the board usually tries to schedule three.

   ”This is the best output. It does not mean that we cannot change it,” he said.

   Superintendent Jordan Schiff noted he does not think any group in Hillsborough values education more than any other group.

   Board of Education member and Education Committee Chair Judith Hass agreed with the public.

   ”We have the option of having additional school days in November with the teacher’s conference,” she said. “We can respect everybody’s holidays. We’ve had a lot of letters and phone calls. A lot of people are upset about it. The calendar is a nightmare. It always will be a nightmare. I think we can do better. I’d like to bring this up again to be discussed in committee.” The board agreed.

   Mr. Kinst asked that teachers’ contractual issues also be explored.

   Earlier in the meeting, Ms. Kansagor suggested that sensitivity training be added to new teacher training and she said there should be more offered in the curriculum on sensitivity and diversity.


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