Hopkins and Minneapolis school districts will have some new no-school days on their calendars starting next school year. Both districts have added days off for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan.
These days off will only apply if the holiday falls on a school day – these won’t operate as floating holidays to use for future days off. In the case of Rosh Hashanah, it will be for the first day of the holiday only.
Ethan Roberts, the director of government affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said that Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff had reached out to him. Roberts said Minneapolis was planning on giving days off for Eid, and wanted to gauge the interest of the Jewish community of having days off.
“It matters that this was brought to us,” Roberts said. “It’s possible that Jewish parents and teachers and staff in those communities had been in touch. It’s interesting because it hadn’t been on the table prior to this past year.”
This start of the 2021-22 school year, for the vast majority of Twin Cities school districts, would have started on the Tuesday after Labor Day, which this past September, was the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Many districts adjusted their start date by one or two days so that the students and staff didn’t have to make the choice between attending the first day of school and their faith.
“The JCRC consensus is that we appreciate that schools will operate on the Jewish holidays,” Robers said. “If you send a child to a public school, you accept that the calendar isn’t the Jewish calendar. We just don’t want them to plan something that you can’t have a redo on. There’s no second prom or sixth-grade wilderness retreat.”
Nik Lightfoot, the assistant superintendent in the Hopkins School District, said that the decision to make the change there – which happened officially last month – came because of student-led advocacy. The district’s religion policy says that students don’t have to be present on holidays, but it’s a difficult decision for many.
“The school board took that to heart,” he said. “We need to look at calendar equity and if the practice is not achieving what it needs to, we should change it.”
Lightfoot said that the school district has long worked with faith communities to make sure holidays are appropriately recognized on school calendars.
“Ultimately, we’re striving for people to participate as much as possible,” Lightfoot said. “If it’s a barrier – and young people were saying it was – we need to respond to what they were telling us.”
Lightfoot said that Jewish and Muslim students are faced with a difficult decision when it comes time to celebrate their holidays.
“What happens is that what students choose to either practice their faith or come to school so they don’t miss tests and materials,” he said. “Those choices are difficult. It reminds them that they are different or not doing what others are doing.”
Oscar Wolfe, who is a student school board representative in Hopkins, said that the holidays are a reminder of their differences.
“This isn’t a change we saw coming,” he said. “The High Holidays are supposed to be a time of reflection, time with family. But what they became was an annual reminder that we were different, that we were somehow not a part of what everyone else was a part of. And I know that for most students, this is a pretty minor change. For those students whose holidays are – for the first time – being honored, it’s a really big deal.”