Baltimore County School Board gets earful over Jewish holidays | WYPR

Baltimore County School Board gets earful over Jewish holidays

Oct 11, 2017

Credit Baltimore County

The Baltimore County School Board is considering a proposal to keep schools open during the Jewish holidays next September. But the board got some blowback for that idea during a public hearing Tuesday night. WYPR's John Lee and Nathan Sterner talked about it on Morning Edition.

The Baltimore County School Board last night heard from people who do not want schools open on the Jewish holidays next year. The board is trying to finalize next year’s calendar and one proposal would have the schools open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. WYPR’s John Lee is on the phone.


STERNER: What happened at last’s night’s board meeting?


LEE: During a public hearing, the school board heard from State Senator Bobby Zirkin, who said he received around one thousand emails from constituents who do not want to see schools open on the high holidays. Zirkin called it a very bad idea.


SOUNDBITE ZIRKIN: “I’m a product of Baltimore County public schools. We started after Labor Day. We were off on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And we made it work. I know you can make it work as well.”


LEE: Jayne Lee, the President of the PTA Council of Baltimore County, said considering at least 10 percent of teachers are Jewish, you would have 1,500 teachers taking those days off, and that would create a safety issue.


SOUNDBITE LEE: “You will not necessarily have trained professionals in those buildings to watch after the children. And should there be an emergency we have great concern for their safety.”


LEE: Others painted a picture of students being herded into cafeterias to watch movies on those days rather than receiving instruction because there would not be enough adults in the schools to go around.


STERNER: How did this debate over next year’s school calendars get to this point?


 LEE: A committee came up with two possible calendars for next year for the board to consider. One of them has schools open on the Jewish holidays, the other does not. 


The committee prefers the one that keeps schools open on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That calendar also adds one day to Spring Break and gives students a few more hours in the classroom.


This all goes back to Governor Larry Hogan’s August 2016 executive order in which he mandated local schools open after Labor Day and close by June 15th. Baltimore County Schools used to open one week before Labor Day. Local school officials have complained that the executive order has put the squeeze on them to get the required hours of instruction in. 


STERNER: Has the Governor weighed in on this?


LEE: Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in a statement that most jurisdictions have been able to come up with a calendar that prioritizes what students and families want and that Baltimore County could easily do the same. She went on to say that an overwhelming majority of Marylanders support opening schools after Labor Day.


But in a recent interview with WYPR, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz criticized the Governor for not letting local school boards decide for themselves when classes should start.


SOUNDBITE KAMENETZ: “He has no business micromanaging the educational experts who are qualified to make the proper decisions.”


Kamenetz says the Governor usurped local control of the school calendar solely to score political points. Important to note that Kamenetz wants to be the Democrat who challenges Hogan, who is a Republican, in next fall’s Gubernatorial race. 


STERNER: So what happens next?


The county school board is expected to adopt a calendar for the 2018-2019 school year in two weeks, on October 24th.


Education reporting on WYPR is supported in part by the Sylvan-Laureate Foundation.