The next school calendar conflict

September 29, 1993

After the Harford County Board of Education took heat from parents for opening school a week before Labor Day this year, the choice for next autumn seemed easy: Open school after Labor Day.

But that decision won't be, or shouldn't be, as automatic as it would seem. Next year, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, falls on the Tuesday following Labor Day. That hasn't happened in more than a quarter-century; it won't happen for another quarter-century (actually the year 2021). But it will present a dilemma for school systems in 1994.

The Harford school board won't decide on this issue for a month or more, but it has received a recommendation from a calendar committee that it ignore the conflict and open the school year on Sept. 6, the Tuesday after Labor Day, with or without Jewish children whose families observe one of that religion's most holy days.

Other school systems in the metropolitan area that have decided their calendars for 1994-95 have resolved the conflict in other ways. Some will continue their recent practice of opening school the week before Labor Day, so Jewish children who take off for the holiday will at least not miss the first day of school. The Baltimore County Board of Education has decided to begin on Thursday, Sept. 8, to ensure its opening doesn't conflict with the Jewish New Year (which technically lasts two days even though many Jewish Americans take off school or work only on the first day).

In Harford County, the volunteer calendar committee may have taken a recent survey of parents a little too literally. Parents countywide said they preferred the school year to begin after Labor Day; no doubt many Jewish families, as a general rule, feel likewise. But next year opening immediately after Labor Day will cause Jewish children to miss all that the first day of a new school year represents. To open the school year the Wednesday after Labor Day would at least offer some compromise and relief.

The Jewish population may not be immense in Harford County, maybe 400 families, guesses a member of the county's lone synagogue. But Jews are a sizable minority with a strong history in the region; Jews make up 5 percent of Maryland's population, about double the national average and the largest share of a state's population between New York and Florida. One would hope that the Harford school board doesn't discount this conflict as easily as its calendar committee apparently did.

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