'94 school start date concerns Jews Rosh Hashana conflict is cited HARFORD COUNTY

March 03, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

First, farming families screamed in protest because the next school year will start before Labor Day in Harford County, making 4-H members choose between the first week of school and the Maryland State Fair.

Now, the county's growing Jewish population, looking ahead to fall 1994, is mounting a lobbying campaign against the county's traditional start of the school year, the day after Labor Day, because classes would conflict with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

In 1994, Labor Day is Sept. 5, and Rosh Hashana, the holiest time on the Jewish calendar, starts Sept. 6.

Rabbi Kenneth B. Block of the Harford Jewish Center, the county's only synagogue, said the Jewish community wants to "negotiate" a starting date. He said Jews might want the school calendar pushed about a week forward or back so students would not have to choose between religious observances and the first days of school.

The Jewish Center includes about 200 families, said Rabbi Block. Harford has another 200 to 300 Jewish families, he estimates.

"Even if there were only two Jewish families, if the school system claims to be sensitive to minorities -- and it does -- then Rosh Hashana has to be respected," he said.

Superintendent Ray R. Keech said he wants school to start as early as possible because he believes the school year should end as close to Memorial Day as possible. He said the lack of air-conditioning in some schools and early family vacations made it important to end school early in June. He has said students grow increasingly restless after Memorial Day.

Ron Eaton, a school board member, said the starting date could never please everyone.

Mr. Eaton said the solution could be broader-based membership on the calendar committee. For example, he said some day-care centers, as well as 4-H families, complained that next year's start disrupted their schedules.

In the past, a nine-member calendar committee has made a recommendation on when school should start. The committee is made up of three members appointed by the county teachers' union, the Harford County Council of PTAs, and the superintendent.

Starting this spring, the committee will begin planning the school calendar two years in advance. The school board now votes in January on when school will start the following fall.

The board still is reeling from its decision to start the next school year before Labor Day for the first time. The school year will start Aug. 30 and end June 9. The decision ignited protest among a vocal group of farming families who pride themselves on their participation in exhibitions at the Maryland State Fair, which runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4.

Rabbi Block said 1994 will mark the first time he could recall that Rosh Hashana will begin so close to Labor Day. The rabbi, like parents who represented the 4-H students, said the first days of school were extremely important for students and teachers.

Starting school the week before Labor Day in 1994 would satisfy the Jewish community but not 4-H families because of conflict with the Maryland State Fair.

"There is no reason to pit the Jewish community against the 4-H community," Rabbi Block said. "This is not us against them. There is plenty of time to find a solution."

Some 4-H families questioned Mr. Keech's logic for starting school earlier and ending around Memorial Day. They said it's just as hot in September as in June, some families have vacations up until Labor Day, and children will be fidgety toward the end of the year no matter when school ends.

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