VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – The Virginia Beach School Board plans to suspend the 2021-2022 calendar after the Jewish community raised concerns.
The issue is with the first day of school in 2021. It happens to fall on Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year.
The school board recently voted on the calendar, which included the first day of school starting the day after Labor Day, which is the traditional start date.
Before the vote, member Kim Melnyk warned her peers the first day coincided with Rosh Hashanah. None of the other members had anything to say.
As part of the vote, the school board also made the day after Easter in 2022 a holiday. The Jewish community says that just rubbed salt into the wound.
“How could this happen?” asked parent Mindi Golden Friedman. “How does nobody see that was wrong? You start the kids off at a disadvantage if they miss their first day of school. Everyone who is choosing to spend the day with their families in synagogue praying versus being in the class.”
Traditionally, Jewish students are out of school on Rosh Hashanah to go to temple. Jewish parents say the first day is so important and it’s not fair for kids to decide between school or religion.
“We are not asking for it off every year,” Friedman said. “We are just saying when it coincides with the first day of school to make that exception.”
“You are putting us in an impossible position,” Temple Emanuel Rabbi Marc Kraus added. “There are other options. Yes, traditionally Virginia Beach public schools starts after Labor Day, but this is an unprecedented situation.”
The Virginia Beach City Public Schools High School Student Handbook allows several reasons for excused absences, including religious holidays, personal illness, death in the family, inclement weather or other school-related activities for which participation has been granted by the school.
On Monday, School Board Chairwoman Carolyn Rye announced she wants board members to take another look at the 2021 calendar.
“The school board has heard from the community over the past few weeks concerning the first day of school conflicting with the first full day of Rosh Hashanah in 2021,” Rye said. “As a result, I think it is important to gather feedback and give this complex topic the time commitment it deserves. At our next formal board meeting on Feb. 25, I plan to make a motion to suspend the use of the 2021-2022 finalized calendar until further notice. I will also ask in that motion that the Board direct the calendar work group to reconvene, with the purpose of reviewing this issue further and bringing a recommendation to the School Board in the next several months.”
Some members of the Jewish community are planning to gather and speak out at the Feb. 25 meeting.
Weigh in: Do you think Virginia Beach Schools should change the first day of school in 2021 to accommodate for the Rosh Hashanah Jewish holiday? Take this Twitter Poll.
WAVY News 10’s Jason Marks is closely following this debate.