Jewish groups threaten to sue after Bristol-Warren set first day of school on Rosh Hashanah
BRISTOL, R.I. (WLNE) – Faith leaders in Rhode Island are calling on the Bristol-Warren Regional School District to amend the 2021-22 academic calendar as the first day of school falls on Rosh Hashanah.
The two-day celebration is one of the holiest holidays in the Jewish religion.
“Jewish educators and families are not asking for anything egregious, they are simply asking for their first day of school not to be on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar – Rosh Hashanah,” said Stephanie Hague of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.
The organization held a press conference outside United Brothers Synagogue in Bristol on Thursday, demanding the start date be changed.
“People here today have written letters, petitioned school committee members, the NEA brought forth a grievance, and they were all met with no changes,” Hague added.
Donna Stouber, a teacher at Kickemuit Middle School, said she learned a month ago of the date conflict and reached out to the superintendent, who told her to bring the issue to the school committee.
Stouber said she heard back from just three out of nine members, and only one apologized and put the topic on the next meeting’s agenda for discussion.
But when it came up, she said, it was rejected.
“The school committee voted 5-4 against even discussing the topic,” she said.
Stouber then filed a discrimination complaint against the school committee.
The National Education Association of Rhode Island said it’s proceeding with a grievance hearing on the matter, and is going to expedited arbitration to have the date moved.
“We implore the school committee to simply do the right thing,” said Jennifer Azevedo, Deputy Executive Director of NEA RI.
Now, the groups are threatening to sue if the date is not changed soon.
“We’re not asking anymore. We’re demanding. The first day of school will not be on Rosh Hashana. That’s a promise. It won’t happen,” said Rabbi Barry Dolinger, Preisdent of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.
Stouber, who has taught at the middle school for close to 30 years, said she’ll be forced to miss the first day of school this year due to this conflict.
“Having the first day of school be Rosh Hashanah definitely interferes with my ability to create a first impression with my students, to establish my rituals and routines, to comfort my students who are feeling nervous on the first day of school,” she said. “The first day of middle school is very stressful for students, and my students won’t have their teacher there. Nor will they have their principal there.”
Parents are equally as frustrated.
Carly Reich, parent to a high schooler and middle schooler, is also a member of the school committee. She said the issue has left her feeling sad and frustrated.
“I feel like this is an easy fix, something that can be taken care of relatively quickly. It’s one day,” said Reich. “I’ve been in contact with lots of different teachers and other families that agree. But that being said, I’m confused, not only as a parent but as a school committee member, about why this has become such a divisive topic.”
Reich said she first voted in favor of the academic calendar before realizing the conflict. Now, she’s hopeful her fellow school committee members will choose to change the date, but she said she can’t speak for them.
“It doesn’t feel inclusive, and I know as a community we’ve been working really hard to demonstrate not only to other families and community members but surrounding community members that Bristol-Warren is an inclusive, accepting environment.”
She said she will choose to keep her children home that day, not only to celebrate the holiday, but to send a message.
“They’re frustrated as well because it is such a pivotal… it sets the tone, as some other folks said today, for the school year. But they are in favor of staying home, not only as sort of like a demonstration of our values as a family, as a community, but because it’s a religious holiday and they’re not being seen.”
ABC6 reached out to Bristol-Warren Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Brice and the head of the school committee for comment but did not receive a response.