Seminole County School Board drops Yom Kippur as nonattendance day
This year the Seminole County School Board presented two school calendars to the community. One was with the school year beginning Aug. 24. The second, which was adopted later, has the school year beginning Aug. 17.
What is interesting is that the calendar that was first posted (start date Aug. 24), included Rosh Hashanah (Monday, Sept. 14) and Yom Kippur (Wednesday, Sept. 23) as days off.
The new and revised calendar (start date Aug. 17) only allows Rosh Hashanah as a day off.
The second calendar came about after Gov. Scott signed the bill into law allowing school districts to begin the school year earlier.
State law previously required that school districts begin no earlier than 14 days before Labor Day.
With a start date of Aug. 24, Seminole County schools would finish out first semester after the winter break. With an earlier start date, the first semester will end Dec. 18.
Why didn’t the Seminole County School Board keep Yom Kippur as a nonattendance day on the revised calendar? Calls were made and emails were sent by Heritage asking this question. There has not been a response from any of the School Board members.
Back in 1998, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro began to exert some influence on the Seminole school calendar.
“It wasn’t entirely what we wanted, but where there was some latitude, the school board would shift Teacher In Service Days, etc. to coincide with Jewish holidays,” he said. “It was a slow process, but got us some positive results.”
The push to make the changes however took a lot of effort and was in part by accident.
Congregation Beth Am started a Sunday Connection Breakfast and invited various community leaders to come speak. Soon it became THE place to address the community. Politicians realized that the Jewish voters were larger in number than non-Jewish voters. Through Connection, Shapiro became friends with school board member Larry Furlong. He was able to share the frustration of Jewish holidays not being nonattendance days with Furlong, who then encouraged Shapiro to send him a list of Jewish holidays.
According to Shapiro, school calendar attendance days are planned two to three years in advance and it takes constant contact. Just because the holidays are nonattendance days one year, doesn’t mean those days will always be days off.
Why this year is different is also an unanswered question.
“Start the process now for 2018,” Shapiro said. “Cultivate politicians and keep it going,” he encouraged.
“One year we got a favorable shift to give kids the first day of Pesach off from school!”
The list of school board members, with email addresses and phone numbers is easy to find on the Seminole County School Board website, http://www.scps.k12.fl.us.com.