The controversy over the first day of school in the Bristol-Warren Regional School District continued on June 29, when the School Committee’s union subcommittee heard a grievance filed by the union.
The grievance was in response to the BWRSD calendar for 2021-22, which has the first day of school for students falling on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. This would force teachers, students, administrators and other staff to choose between their religion and their school duties.
Donna Stouber, a teacher in BWRSD for 27 years, had originally alerted members of the Jewish community and the school community to the calendar issue.
“It doesn’t seem like some members of the School Committee understand what we are asking for,” Stouber, who teaches middle-school science, told Jewish Rhode Island.
“We are not asking for a school holiday or a change in the number of days of school. We are just asking for it not to be the first day of school” on a High Holy Day, she said.
The grievance committee voted 2-1 on June 29 against revising the calendar.
The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island had reached out to Jonathan T. Brice, superintendent of BWRSD, on Feb. 18 to make him aware of the potential conflict with the start of school, and followed up on June 16.
At Stouber’s request, the BWRSD School Committee on June 14 heard the case to change the first day of school; committee members voted 5-4 not to allow a discussion.
Stouber emphasized how important the first day of school is to the sixth-graders she will teach this year.
“For sixth-graders, the first day is scary. They want to have their teacher there to help them through,” she said. It is very difficult “not to be there on the first day.”
But she said she will take the day off, and the one following, which is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, because it is important to her.
Stouber said the union, the Bristol-Warren Education Association, will try to get expedited mediation for the calendar.
“We have the support of the local and state unions,” she said.
In a joint statement issued on June 22, the Alliance and the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island wrote: “It is concerning that holidays of certain religions seem to receive preferential treatment over others on the calendar. For example, BWRSD is closed on Good Friday. This places the value of one religion over others, and violates the principles of religious tolerance on which our state was founded. It is important to set a uniform policy on religious observances, and we strongly urge BWRSD to reconsider how these holidays are treated.
“The Jewish community hopes to work with BWRSD to provide support as it designs future calendars. Together, we must ensure that our students understand the importance of religious freedom and recognition.”
FRAN OSTENDORF (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.