Howard Co. school district considering a calendar without Jewish holidays

WASHINGTON — Some parents in Howard County are up in arms, confused over a new proposal to the school board that would remove the two existing Jewish holidays from the school calendar.

Emily Greenberger says part of the reason her family moved to Howard County was for its diversity.

“Part of that diversity is not just celebrating the Christian holidays. It’s celebrating our holidays and other people’s holidays,” Greenberger says.

When she heard the school board will consider a 2016-17 calendar without observing Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it scared her.

“Taking away something that people have had since 1979 is a step backwards,” she says.

A calendar committee appointed annually to review the upcoming calendar year has been working on two options to propose to the board.

“One proposal is similar to last year and includes Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And then option two would be schools would be closed only on state-mandated holidays,” says John White, spokesman for Howard County Public Schools. The state of Maryland does not mandate public schools close for Jewish high holidays.

Read the proposed options here.

The committee informally considered adding all “additional holidays” requested by groups asking that their observed holiday be added to the school calendar in an effort to compile all the information possible.

“If all of the religious observances that we’re aware of were included, we would be going to school in to June 28 or thereabouts. Then you have to consider snow days,” White says.

If the board decided not to include Jewish holidays next school year, Eric McCormick of Columbia says he wouldn’t be concerned over whether to take his  7-year-old-son out of school since the county would excuse his absence for religious reasons.

“I guess part of my issue is more in terms of the teachers. That they probably won’t get the same flexibility as students do,” he says.

McCormick wrote a letter to the Board of Education requesting that if it chose to have class on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, that education about those religious holidays be incorporated into the day’s lesson plan.

“This is for all religions. Whether or not they keep schools open for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, there are growing communities of other religions and the students, faculty and teachers need to know what those religions are and how to respect them properly,” McCormick says.

The school district says it has to find a balance between instructional days and respecting the needs of its community.

Greenberger is adamant this is not about instruction days. She notes multiple days her three kids are home from school that are not state-mandated holidays and says she’d rather have every religion’s holiday observed than only one religion.

“By opening the schools on the Jewish holidays it’s sending a very clear message to the communities that we’re not inclusive,” Greenberger says.

The school board will hear public comment at its Dec. 17 7:30 p.m. meeting before it votes on Jan. 17, 2016.

To sign up to testify at the hearing, contact the board’s office at 410-313-7194. Community members may also share their views by email to

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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