Thursday, August 19, 2010

Providence Public Schools: Jewish Holidays No More (for now)

Mario Hilario, the rhymingest reporter in Providence television news, recently reported this story on Providence Public Schools' discontinuation of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as school holidays (well, Rosh Hashana, anyway, as Yom Kippur doesn't begin until sundown on Friday, September 18). Here's the ProJo's take on the story, with some added perspective from Providence district staff; I'm happy to note that both versions feature our rabbi, Emanu-El's Wayne Franklin.

Providence Public Schools have been off for RH and YK for 30+ years; reasons why they won't be this year, according to the above reports, include the early dates for the holidays this year (RH is on 9/8, a week after school starts), the declining Jewish public school student and teacher population, the ongoing challenges of accommodating holidays observed by diverse religious groups. and the pressure not to lose any days for needed instructional time (I'd love to know more about the percentage of PPSD Jewish kids and teachers/staff, as well as the ways that other major religious are/aren't acknowledged in various ways in school, investigations that will need to wait for another day).

All valid, and I was glad to hear that this decision is a trial and may not be repeated next year (though I would not put any money on its reversal). Likely, this issue wouldn't even be on my mind if my own Jewish children weren't going to be missing school just as school gets rolling. Do I think they're going to miss key learning that will penalize them thereafter? No, not so much. Though I do hope, perversely, that they miss something meaningful--otherwise, what was the point of this calendar change? Do I think that they will become more conscious that, as Jews, they're different than many of their peers? Yes, I do. Whether that's good, bad, or indifferent, only time will tell.

I suspect, as well, that Jewish kids may feel evaluated in some real way by this change. Every other year, the major holidays of their religion were recognized by school--one of the other key institutions in their lives. Now, no, and I think they and other kids, Jewish and not, will take note of that change and perceive that what was important isn't anymore.

When I think broadly about what's best for all kids, keeping school open for the Jewish holidays makes sense. Here's hoping that PPSD does great things with the extra time. Still, I worry about the loss, both for actual Jewish children who miss learning and bonding with their peers so early in the school year, and for all of the kids, who get the message that what was important last year isn't anymore.


  1. Thanks for this info! I'd love to know the percentage of Jewish kids in the PPSD, and how that's changed over the years. I'm sad, but I also understand that if there are many fewer Jews in the system than there used to be, it's a valid question whether everyone should miss valuable instruction time.

  2. I think this definitely sends a message, to both Jewish children and non-Jewish children. That message is that only the majority matters when making decisions, a lousy lesson to teach. Perhaps school should be held on Good Friday - after all, how many Christians really go to church on that day? This is just one more example of amazingly bad decisions being made at a leadership level in RI schools.

  3. I completely agree with you Jill. To not recognize a major religious holiday because it does not fit into the schedule (too close to start of school - give me a break) is just insulting. I too hope that they reverse this decision and do the right thing next year.