LEWISTON, Maine (WMTW) – The Lewiston school committee has decided to remove the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah from the school calendar as official school holidays.
Lewiston schools were closed on those two days for the first time this fall after the committee voted last spring to add them to the schedule.
Monday night’s vote to revert to the old calendar was 5 to 4. The committee did not discuss the Muslim holiday of Eid, which was also added as official school holidays This year. At least 40% of students in Lewiston School District come from immigrant families, most of whom are Muslims.
Superintendent Jake Langlais recommended withdrawing Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah citing recent poll results. He said 72% of people in the community who responded to the survey said they didn’t want to keep them as a school vacation. The staff were fairly evenly distributed and the students who responded were strongly against keeping it as a school vacation. The addition of vacation extended the end of the school year by two days.
Langlais said there was no formal data on the number of students and staff celebrating Jewish holidays, but he estimates that this is a very small percentage of the school population. Committee members opposed to the elimination of public holidays argued that the department needs to be more inclusive.
Langlais noted that even without schools being closed, students and staff can take days off for religious observation without penalty.
David Allen, president of Temple Shalom Synagogue Center in Auburn sent the following statement to WMTW in response to the committee’s action:
“The leaders of the Temple would prefer that these Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, be recognized. However, since this does not impact many people, we certainly understand the Council’s decision to have the school in session on these days. Of course, as one school board member said, if someone takes those days off, they should be able to do it without a problem or problem and that should be a written school board policy. In addition, a policy like this should extend to ALL religions, not just Judaism.
“We certainly understand that extending the school year by a few days in June can be problematic and that it is important to start the school year without too many days off.
“Finally, we ask that tests, field trips and other special events not take place on religious holidays, of any religion, so that students celebrating these holidays, who take days off, do not do not miss it. “
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