SOUTHBOROUGH – In a meeting on March 8 at P. Brent Trottier Middle School, the Northborough, Southborough, and Regional school committees approved the calendar for the 2023-2024 academic year.
The committees approved the first of two calendar options provided by Superintendent Gregory Martineau. The first option – which was eventually approved – will continue to observe Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Good Friday as religious holidays.
“Option 2,” which was not approved, sought to hold classes on religious holidays next school year.
Though “Option 1” was unanimously approved by the school committees, the vote left more questions than answers about the future of recognizing religious holidays in the school district.
The Northborough-Southborough Coalition for Equity, which formed a 2023-2024 School Calendar Working Group, recently recommended that the district should “remove all religious observances from the school calendar in [the] 2025-2026 [academic year].”
The working group hopes that the two-year buffer in implementing the changes associated with “Option 2” will allow enough time for reflection, preparation, and an effective transition.
In an email to the school community, Martineau endorsed the working group’s plan, saying how he “fully support[s] the Coalition for Equity’s School Calendar Working Group’s… recommendations.”
Wednesday’s vote only approved the 2023-2024 academic calendar and does not necessarily mean that the religious holidays will be taken away in two years. However, the possibility still remains that changes could be made in the 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 calendars.
After approving “Option 1” for 2023-2024, the focus immediately shifted to next year’s calendar. The committees voted to declare their intent to keep the holidays on the 2024-2025 calendar and vowed to continue to work to find an equitable solution to the scheduling conflict. Though almost all members adamantly agreed, the vote was ultimately non-binding and members may change their minds by next year’s scheduling process.
Several members of the community raised objections about holding school on religious holidays.
Jessica Levenson, whose family celebrates both Christian and Jewish holidays, viewed asking Jewish people to give up their holidays as a “step in the wrong direction.”
“As a district, we are supposedly moving toward diversity, equity, and inclusion, and here we have a reductive process,” she said. “I appreciate the school committee trying to reach a balance, but I would rather… see other communities represented in an additive way.”
David Fialkow, who is Jewish, noted that holding classes on the two holiest Jewish holidays is “drastic” and that it “has a certain connotation to it.”
“[Jewish] people have been the subject of some of the worst hate in human history,” he said. “While we like to think we’ve gotten past a lot of these atrocities, the reality is the data supports it’s getting worse.”
Fialkow then pointed out recent acts of antisemitism in the school district.
“These are real, local issues. In this environment we live in right now, it’s not the right time to be taking away Jewish holidays,” he said.
Other changes to academic calendar
Aside from the religious holiday debate, the approved schedule has several new additions.
For instance, following a recommendation from the working group, classes will not be held on the day of the presidential primary, giving potential high school voters easier access to the polls. Instead, the date will become a professional development day for staff.
The schedule will also have an 8% increase in five-day school weeks, meant to provide more continuity for students.
The first day of the 2023-2024 school year will be on August 31, 2023.
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