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Parents: Jewish Holidays Need More Respect from Schools

Emily Blumberg
Emily Blumberg
Part two of a transcript from the Jan 13, 2014 School Committee meeting. For Part one, click here.

8:01 to 8:06 p.m.

During the student representative’s update, student representative Katelyn Mitrano said that Westford Academy students are currently undergoing midterms and preparing for prom, but requested that sidewalks on Patten Road be cleared.

Olsen said that this has been a problem for years, and that sidewalk clearance is the role of residents in many cases, and clearance was inconsistent.

Harkness asked if Westford Academy principal Jim Antonelli could put signs for drivers to slow down.

Mitrano said that many students are parking on Hartford Road due to the issue.

8:06 to 8:42 p.m.

The agenda moved forward to the school year calendar, with Olsen asking for feedback and that it would begin to be put together in a week to a week and a half.

He said that no two years are the same, and this year may require more professional development days, requiring early release, and that he is trying to find the equilibrium of how many are needed, with a maximum of one per month.

Kohl asked that there are three additional days that could potentially be used for professional development next year due to collective bargaining agreement with the teachers having a school year of 185 days.

Murray said that it’s important to be mindful of how long kids are out of school.

Emily Blumburg, whose daughter goes to the Nabnasset School, requested that Westford Schools be closed on Jewish high holidays, specifically Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  She offered information on nearby school districts at request.

Blumburg discussed a policy change regarding religious holidays made last year that allows students excused absence after explaining to teachers, but many did not due to fear of falling behind.

Blumburg requested that if these days could not be made as holidays, no tests should be given on these days.

Susanna Wood of Honeysuckle Road came to the microphone next, saying she had come with many fellow congregants from a synogouge in Acton.

Wood gave concerns over the no tests on religious holidays policy being missing without explanation and said that requesting favors of teachers early in the school year was difficult for students as they often did not know their new teachers yet.

Wood also requested that important staff meetings, sporting events and other events should not occur on religious holidays and in response to a discussion she had earlier with Olsen, she said that there is no better way to teach ethical values to students.

Wood concluded providing a calendar for the Jewish high holidays for the next ten years. Keele asked if he coached her daughter in basketball, which she did.

Melissa Himmel-Farb of Buckboard Drive came to the microphone next. She said that when she grew up, it was expected to have those holidays off since many students took the day off anyway.

While she said she loves Westford, she believes Jewish students are singled out.

Himmel-Farb said that contacting teachers two weeks in advance was also difficult since many parents do not know who their child’s teachers are earlier in the year.

Caren Boroshok came to the microphone next, requesting that the two week notice request for non-Christian holidays is discriminatory and requested Westford take the Boston School Department calendar, also requesting that tests not be required the day after non-Christian religious holidays.

Keele thanked all of the parents for their input, saying input does not occur often enough. He said it was not the intent to create a burden and said that it appears there may be unintended consequences and that the policy needed to be looked at.

Clay asked for the background that led to the change, with Olsen saying that there had been some feedback stating that there were more requests for days off and due to the increasing amount of diversity, it would be more fair to take specific designations off the calendar and leave it to respective families.

He said that it has worked in some instances and not in others. The policy was changed in March of 2012 and more issues than not were discussed and it was time to be re-examined.

Benoit had an idea of “personal floating days” where absences can be given with no questions asked. He thought this idea may help relieve the stigma since it could apply to any child.

Mitrano said that Westford Academy personnel are understanding during the first week of school due to the holidays and it is hard to get caught up after missing two days.

She also said that it’s unfair being given just to the Christian holidays, but it would be difficult to have days off more frequently throughout the year.

Keele said that the issue couldn’t be taken up immediately due to the budget process and advised the parents subscribe to meeting agendas.

Harkness gave more background on the decision over the policy change, saying that it was intended to provide anyone of any religion the ability to let their teachers and administration know their needs to provide fairness.

Keele said that he believed most Westford Public School staff would likely allow additional time for those impacted.

Ron Fliescher of Jennifer Drive said that his children had been impacted by these issues. He said that the Westford School System has done the best they could, but that his children feel excluded.

He understood that Westford is different than when he grew up in New York. He said the answer is not to exclude everyone equally but provide exceptions and that tests should also be avoided on Muslim holy days and religious days of other faiths, as mentioned earlier. 

He said that he could take days off work, and unlike his children would not feel excluded when he came back.

Harkness grew up in New York and asked Fliescher whether the important part is whether the holidays are recognized on the calendars.

Fliescher said that field hockey tryouts and in the past, school pictures, were on those holidays.

8:42 to 8:43 p.m.

Several warrants were approved and the meeting went into executive session.

joseph mcgruff January 17, 2014 at 10:11 AM
It seems that every other town I have lived in either: clears the sidewalks for you (at least the main side walks closest to the center of town, I guess in the surrounding neighborhoods are on their own or just walk in the street) or asks you to do it yourself or get fined. The tough part is that a sidewalk is essentially another end of the driveway and as we all know is the hardest area to clear. So, when its a few inches or not that bad, I can see expecting all to do their part. When alot of snow falls, and the plows pile on to the sidewalk, it gets compacted I can see how someone might not be ABLE to do it...what then? I will say, that it is also head scratching when people move and choose to be near the common, or near train tracks or a cut thru street, all of a sudden it becomes a burden to them, when forever its been expected and accepted what comes with living in these areas. Sort of like the holidays we get off too...
Nick Caraway January 18, 2014 at 12:30 AM
Just some parental units who want to blow off steam just like the dad last year and the rainbow gay flag bible rant needed to get his monkey off his back too
Christi January 20, 2014 at 11:13 AM
I do not understand the request for residents to clear sidewalks on Patten Rd. Where do they want cleared? There is only a very short stretch of sidewalk on Patten which runs in front of 3 or 4 residences and this is usually cleared. The rest of the 'sidewalk' runs directly in front of WA through the trees (which cannot be easily cleared due to huge snow piles from the WA parking lot). If this pathway is the issue, then it is the Town's responsibility to clear it, since it is most certainly on school land. The only other stretch of paved pathway (hardly a sidewalk) winds through the woods, past the Russian Cemetery, and runs out prior to Rooks Way. No houses border this stretch of pathway. Again, I believe most of it borders town land. Looking further afield there are no sidewalks on Country Rd, Hartford Rd or Robinson Rd for residents to clear. IMO if the school administrators want the pathways clear on Patten, either the town should do it or they should get the kids to do it in their gym class block. They might even get a decent workout for once!
Kevin January 21, 2014 at 03:15 PM
Since any discussion of God in public school is inexplicably and practically outlawed nationwide, I see no reason for anyone to ask for exceptions. If you are a practicing Catholic and you want to skip school to attend Ash Wednesday services, Christmas, or any other holy day then that's up to you regardless of school. make up the time.. Same with the Jewish holidays, Muslim etc etc...By the way, guess how many books on Christmas, which is a Christian religious holiday, there are in the Nabnasset School Library- if you guessed zero you'd be right. How many books are there on Judiasm ?- at least 40...Why ? Mainly because we are a society that is a bunch of politically correct whiners who are afraid to stand up for our beliefs without fear of being labeled anti- this or anti that !

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