PORTLAND, Maine — Public schools will start a day earlier than previously planned in September after the School Board voted Tuesday to move up the first day of school because of a conflict with the Jewish New Year.
In an 8-1 vote, the board moved the first day of school to Sept. 4, a day before Rosh Hashana. The decision followed objections from members of the Jewish community and the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, who said students and teachers should not have to choose between a significant school event and worshiping on a religious holiday.
Board Member Sarah Thompson said the decision to change the first day of school was not being made to accommodate one particular religion, but to be respectful of the diversity in city schools.
“This conversation has created an opportunity for leadership and students to learn and celebrate that diversity,” Thompson said before the board voted. “Sometimes we make comments here and we don’t necessarily understand what we’re talking about. … I think we really hit a nerve here and that it really behooves us to talk more about inclusion.”
The schedule change not only moves the first day of school, but also moves the second teacher professional day from Sept. 4 to Sept. 6 – essentially canceling classes on that day, which for some Jews is the second day of Rosh Hashana. Students will return to school Sept. 9.
Kindergartners will start school Sept. 9, which is the Hindu holiday of Ganesh Chaturthi.
Most schools in the area will start Sept. 3 or 4, or in late August. The city schools are the only ones in The Forecaster’s coverage area that were scheduled to start Sept. 5.
The first day of school was originally scheduled on Sept. 5 because the first Thursday of September is traditionally when Portland schools open.
The board discussed the conflict with Rosh Hashana in detail at its April meeting, when the calendar was originally approved. But members at that time decided to proceed, citing fairness and the need for teacher preparation days.
Read More: Bangor Daily News