RI school district under fire for deciding to start next year on Jewish holiday

East Bay

BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) ─ School is out for summer this week in most districts across Rhode Island, but for one of them, next year’s calendar is already under scrutiny.

The Bristol Warren Regional School District has set next year’s first day of school for Sept. 7, which is also the first day of Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.

The decision isn’t sitting right with the town’s Jewish community.

“This places Jewish students, faculty, and staff in the position to choose between their obligations to their school and to their religion,” said Adam Greenman, the president of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. “What is worse, the calendar makes Rosh Hashanah the first day of school – a special day that is the first opportunity to meet new teachers and students for the first time, and to set a welcoming tone for the remainder of the year.”

Cantor Dr. Joel Gluck of United Brothers Synagogue said the holiday — the Jewish new year — is a time for self-reflection, which students can’t successfully do while in school.

“We’re prohibited from doing work, traditional work, on this holiday because we’re supposed to be spending most of the day in prayer, in conversation with God, attending religious services to put us in that correct frame of mind,” Gluck said.

Greenman said he asked the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee to discuss changing the district’s start date.

But in a vote of 5-4, Greenman’s request to discuss the matter was shot down.

“The district’s unwillingness to even have a discussion with us kind of makes this even more disturbing,” Gluck said.

Greenman said Rosh Hashanah hasn’t fallen this early in September in 24 years, which is why several school districts across Rhode Island – including Providence, East Greenwich, Cranston and Barrington – made sure their start dates don’t interfere with the holiday.

Gluck said this is just another case of religious inequity, especially since nearly all school districts in the state, including Bristol Warren, take Christian holidays off such as Good Friday.

“It speaks to unequal treatment of religious holidays, when one religion’s holiday is given off while another religion’s holiday is not,” Gluck said.

Greenman said some other school districts are planning to start on Rosh Hashanah as well, however, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island was only contacted by concerned residents of Bristol Warren.

12 News reached out to the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee for comment but has yet to hear back.

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