BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The state’s Jewish community is urging the Bristol Warren Regional School District to reconsider starting next year on one of their holiest days.
The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island has been leading the charge since the district’s academic calendar for next year was finalized.
The district has students returning to the classroom on Sept. 7, which is also the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. But the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee rejected the non-profit organization’s request to change the date when it was brought to their attention.
Stephanie Hague, director of community relations for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, argues the committee is forcing families to choose between education and religion.
“Jewish educators and families are not asking for anything egregious,” Hague said. “They are asking for the first day of the school year to not be on one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar.”
While Hague acknowledged the Jewish population isn’t in the majority, she argues they’re being “placed in the uncomfortable position of relying on those who are overtly demonstrating their lack of concern for basic human rights.”
Rabbi Barry Dolinger, president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, called the committee’s decision a “needless display of discrimination against Jewish students.”
“A minority community comes forward and says ‘we are aggrieved and here are the simple fixes that, by the way, neighboring towns and cities are doing, will you consider that?’ and they say ‘we don’t have time to discuss that,'” Dolinger said.
Carly Reich, a member of the Bristol Warren School Committee, said if the date isn’t changed, her children will not be attending school that day.
“I feel like this is an easy fix,” she said. “I’m confused, not only as a parent, but as a fellow school committee member. It makes me frustrated and sad.”
Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman argues school districts make accommodations for all of the important holidays on the Christian calendar, and theirs shouldn’t be treated differently.
“You could easily make the accommodation,” he said. “So why are we here? I don’t know, because no one will explain it.”
The Jewish community hasn’t asked for accommodations in previous years, Voss-Altman said, but this year is different.
“This year follows a year like no other … a year where our children have not had the opportunity to be with their friends or be in the classroom with their teacher,” he explained. “This year we are asking for an accommodation to be made … because no child or teacher should be punished for their religious beliefs.”
Dolinger said their message to the school committee is loud and clear.
“We have asked and asked for months now,” Dolinger said. “We are not asking anymore, we are demanding. The first day of school will not be on Rosh Hashanah, that’s a promise.”
The school committee’s next meeting is scheduled for July 19.