North Kingstown students may be in the classrooms for three religious holidays starting next year following a vote from the North Kingstown School Committee. All seven members of the committee unanimously approved changes to the school calendars, removing three religious holidays – Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Good Friday – starting with the 2013-2014 academic year.
According to School Superintendent Phil Auger, the new calendar more closely follows the calendar used by state workers. The change would give school officials a great buffer when accommodating snow days, hurricane days and other unforeseen issues that prompt no school.
“I’ve been superintendent for a year and a half and during that time I haven’t called a snow day,” said Auger. “I have, however, called a strike day and five hurricane days.”
This school year, classes were pushed back a day following a picket by North Kingstown’s support professionals protesting contract negotiations and changes, namely the outsourcing of the district’s custodial services. Last year, school started a week late as North Kingstown recovered from Hurricane Irene.
By state law, schools must accumulate the 180 mandated school days by the end of June. If Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Good Friday remain in the calendar, the last day of school for next school year would be June 16. Schools would only have a buffer of nine days to make up lost time from snow days and other school cancellations.
According to Auger, school officials in South Kingstown are trying to determine how to finish school by the end of June after losing nearly a week of school due to Superstorm Sandy this past fall. Auger said officials are considering using vacation time.
“If we had a significant snow event, we would be starting that discussion,” said Auger.
School committee members worried that the removal of these holidays may not be welcome news to some parents. Last school year, many parents were unsettled by the removal of Rosh Hashanah from the school calendar after school officials used it as a make-up day for Hurricane Irene. This school year, Rosh Hashanah was omitted from the calendar. School Committee Member Lynda Avanzato noted that several parents were upset that Jewish holiday were eliminated but Good Friday remained.
“It was an uneven situation,” said Avanzato.
Fellow member Bill Mudge stated he would want to see community input before making the change. According to Auger, he had sent queries out to parents via email and received mainly positive feedback regarding the change. Additionally, there have been several calendar sub-committees that have recommended the removal of these holidays.
Despite the vote, the calendar changes will be dependent on contracts with both the teachers’ union and with the support professionals’ union. Each union would need to sign a memorandum of agreement to allow the removal of those holidays.