When Two New Years Collide

September 30, 1993

For school systems that have wrestled with whether to open the school year before and after Labor Day, 1994 brings an added wrinkle: The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, falls on the Tuesday after Labor Day next year.

For school systems that have chosen to open the week before Labor Day -- as most in Maryland now do -- that conflict presents less of a problem: Jewish children whose families observe the new year can begin school with their peers and take off days for the two major fall Jewish holidays -- Yom Kippur being the other. But for the few school systems that plan to open after Labor Day (Sept. 5) next year, they must decide whether to open the Tuesday after the secular holiday and thus, force many Jewish children to miss the first day of school.

Although several school systems won't set their 1994-95 calendar for months, others are now in the process or have already done so.

The Rosh Hashana conflict has surfaced in Harford County, where a calendar committee voted 6-3 to open school on Sept. 6. The school board has yet to make a final decision.

Other metropolitan counties have seemed more sensitive to the conflict. Baltimore County, for instance, won't open schools next year until Thursday, Sept. 8, to avoid Rosh Hashana (which technically lasts two days, although many families only take off school or work for the first day). Baltimore County also plans to close June 16, the same day Harford wants to.

In an earlier editorial, we said the Harford school system was right to discount the hardship that this year's early school opening presented for 4-H children who had to miss school to participate in the State Fair. That conflict, though, was harder to resolve because it lasted a full week. In this case, opening school just one day later than recommended would allow Jewish children to begin school with their peers.

Granted, this is a public school system, not a parochial one, and matters of church and state get tricky. But if a school system can be sensitive to an acute conflict between secular and religious calendars without too much dislocation, it should.

Harford and other counties can also take comfort in the fact that the next year Rosh Hashana falls immediately after Labor Day will be 2021 -- and children may not even have to leave the comfort of their home interactive computer pods by then.

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