Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

The FCAT tests timing not appropriate


As I believe many have heard, Orange and Seminole counties, along with 58 other counties in Florida, have changed the starting date of FCAT testing from what was publicized earlier in the year. Instead of beginning the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade reading exam on Monday, April 21, the FCATs will now start on Monday, April 14 and continue throughout the week. This revised schedule conflicts with the religious calendars of many throughout the state as Monday evening the 14th is the first night of Passover and that is also Holy Week.

This surprising and unexpected change has sent a serious shock wave not only through our Jewish community but through the Christian community as well. As I wrote in the Orlando Sentinel, “these are days and times that we cherish to be with our community in prayer and to celebrate with family and loved ones in festive meals like the Passover seder which is often eaten well into the evening.”

We are all frustrated and deeply disappointed in the lack of consideration displayed by public officials and public school systems throughout our state.

Many have asked how our community has responded to this situation. First of all, we have been working closely with Pastor James Coffin, the executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, both to voice our common concern and to raise awareness. To that end, I composed an opinion piece that was published in the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday, March 4, which was then followed by a press release from the Interfaith Council. You may also have seen the story on Channel 9 news this past Feb, 27 featuring Rabbi David Kay of Congregation Ohev Shalom and another on News 13 just this past Thursday featuring Rabbi Joshua Neely of Temple Israel. Many members of the Jewish community of Orlando have already been in touch with their local governments, school boards and superintendents to voice their concern and raise the issue with them.

There are a number of ways that we all can continue to raise awareness of this issue both in public and with those who oversee the FCAT exams.

Raise your voice—If you have not yet done so, contact your local government, school board, superintendent, and the Florida Department of Education. Let them know, more than once, that you feel that the wrong decision was made. Ask them to reconsider and to recognize the lack of respect for people of many faiths resulting from this decision.

Use social media to spread the word—Tell your friends on facebook and your followers on twitter about this situation and ask them to share it with their friends. The more we spread the word throughout Florida and to the greater Jewish community throughout the country the better chance there is that our voice will truly be heard by the people we want to hear it.

Tell your friends—Tell other people in the pick-up line at school or at the bus stop about how you feel. Ask them if they feel the same way and if they do, ask them to call the school and voice their displeasure.

If your child is affected by this, keep them home and ask for a make-up exam—In all of the conversations I’ve had with local and state government officials, they have repeatedly told me that make-up exams will be offered for students who cannot take the FCATs for religious reasons on the scheduled testing and make-up days. But the truth of the matter is that if we want our children and our school districts to know that we truly care about this issue, then we simply cannot send our children to school anyway if no change is made. The schools are required to provide a make-up date that does not conflict with our religious obligations and have been given every leeway needed by the Florida Department of Education in order to do so. We MUST take advantage of that opportunity. If we do not, if our children go to school on Passover and take the exam as if it were any other day, we will have robbed our children of an opportunity to celebrate Passover as it was meant to be celebrated and we will have told our schools that an exam is more important than our religion. So let your children stay up late for both seders and then the next day bring them to services instead of sending them to school. And if your personal schedule does not allow you to take them to services, know that the schools have been instructed to be accommodating of students who will not be able to take the exam on the scheduled day. If you plan to keep your child home and/or will need a make-up exam, I encourage you to contact your school ahead of time to let them know ahead of time, not because it is required, but because it is a kind gesture to the school.

It is hard to predict know what the outcome of our campaign will be. But if we define success as showing the city of Orlando and the state of Florida that we care about our Jewish holidays enough to raise our voices and then keep our children home in observance of these days, I truly believe that we will be successful.

Rabbi Hillel Skolnik, Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation; president, Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis.


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