Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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Back to School

September 2, 2015
Posted by: Abby Porth, Associate Executive Director

My children have just returned to school, carrying new backpacks, bright lunchboxes, and – for my little one – an elephant “lovey,” or transitional object, in tow. Despite the frantic rush to get out the door each morning, the return to our school-year routine is a welcomed change from summer. The teachers, my heroes, will ensure that for the next nine months my children will not whine, “We’re bored!”

For many of us Jewish parents, one disruption to our glee in returning to the school year is the concern and frustration that can come from figuring out how to deal with our kids missing school for religious observance of the High Holy Days.

Each August, JCRC updates and distributes a five-year Calendar of Main Jewish Religious Observances and Resource Guide. The calendar and guide is designed to foster schools’ awareness of Jewish religious observances and to serve as a planning resource, reducing Jewish families’ negative experiences negotiating these issues with schools.

This fall, observances most likely to result in absences are Rosh Hashanah (September 14 and September 15) and Yom Kippur (September 23). We encourage you to share this resource with your teachers, administrators, parent-teacher associations, and other groups you think could benefit from the information. While this resource is intended to help schools plan in advance to avoid scheduling conflicts, it is important that parents know that, should a conflict arise, their children are entitled to an opportunity to make up work or tests they have missed during their absence for religious observances – as is required by the Education Code.

We recommend that parents look to their school administrators and teachers as partners – partners in helping schools avoid calendar conflicts; partners in fostering an inclusive multicultural environment that feels safe to all children; and partners in ensuring that curricula that deal with Jews, Judaism, and Israel are age-appropriate, pedagogically sound, and pass scholarly muster.

We have heard from Jewish parents that it is additionally valuable to discuss with their children (with appropriate age consideration, of course) possible religious, ethnic and political misunderstandings they may encounter. Framed as positive learning opportunities, in the context of other conversations about school, this can be a powerful and helpful way to share with our kids our values approach to conflict.

The principle that public schools must be “religiously neutral” has been well established in the U.S., and California prohibits curriculum that reflects adversely on persons because of their religion or other immutable characteristics. However, not all faculties understand or perfectly implement this neutrality.

For when difficulties do occur, JCRC has made available a resource about 10 Ways to Advocate on Behalf of Your Child in School. This resource can help you in communicating with teachers and school administrators. We also now make available a resource specifically for Responding to Religious Bias in Your School. We provide confidential coaching on these matters to Bay Area Jewish parents, and invite you to contact us if you would like help thinking through different approaches to resolve the situation.

Wishing you a wonderful start to a bright new school year, and shanah tovah – happy new year.

PHOTO: “School,” illustration for Penrod by Booth Tarkington.