Frederick County Public Schools will be closed on Yom Kippur and Election Day during the 2018-2019 school year.
The Frederick County Board of Education backtracked on its proposed calendar late Wednesday night and instead approved the original recommended calendar brought to them by the calendar committee.
The accepted calendar combines Fair Day and Yom Kippur on the same dates, as opposed to having the traditional Fair Friday.
Board member Ken Kerr said even though he wanted to have Fair Friday, the calendar just didn’t have enough days to make that possible.
“We just can’t make it work. Whenever we can make it work, we will make it work,” Kerr said. “There’s a saying that the best deal is the one where both sides feel a little bad, and that’s what we have here. Both sides are walking away feeling a little bad.”
April Miller was the only board member to oppose the calendar. Fellow member Colleen Cusimano was not present at the time of the vote.
The calendar also includes moving a two-hour early dismissal day that was originally slated in February to a two-hour early dismissal on the day before Thanksgiving, Nov. 21.
The day before Election Day is a teacher workday, after the proposed plan had Election Day as the teacher workday.
FCPS employees will not be able to attend a popular professional development day that many districts throughout the state attend that is held on Oct. 19, because school is open on that day. Instead, teachers will get an added professional development day on Aug. 24.
Parent teacher conferences are slated for Nov. 5 through Nov. 9.
The board made the decision last month to close school on Sept. 21 for Fair Day. The original recommendation consolidated both days on Sept. 19, but the board had no data on how many students would be absent on Yom Kippur, so it sought public feedback on the calendar to see what the response would be.
The board can’t choose to close school because of religious reasons, but can close schools for days it expects high rates of absenteeism.
The 2018-2019 school year’s calendar was particularly challenging because school officials have to find several days of school they didn’t have to worry about last year. In 2017, Yom Kippur fell on a Saturday, so schools didn’t need to close. In 2018, there is a gubernatorial election, which will require schools to be closed on Election Day (Nov. 6). Finally, the last day of the school calendar, June 15, is a Saturday, which is another day the board has to account for.
The scheduling challenges have led to other school districts considering staying open on the Jewish holidays.
Charles Cramer, of The Great Frederick Fair Board, spoke in support of keeping Fair Day on Friday, saying tradition and learning opportunities were invaluable to the students in FCPS.
“We have enjoyed Fair Friday for a number of years without moving it around and joining it with another important day,” Cramer said.
Mason Kaplan, an FCPS student, advocated closing schools on Yom Kippur, because of the challenges students face to make up work if they were to miss school.
Rabbi Simon Stratford, of Congregation Kol Ami, also advocated consolidating Fair Day and Yom Kippur to the same day — Sept. 19.
Stratford said closing schools on Rosh Hashana and not Yom Kippur — the holiest day of the year — was a “slap in the face,” and that having schools closed on Good Friday, which is required by the state, is “unfortunate.”
“If Fair Week is just that, an entire week, I believe it’s a small favor to ask to consolidate those days,” Stratford said. Stratford added that the calendar can have Fair Day in following years, because Yom Kippur doesn’t always fall in the same time frame as Fair Week.
In the original calendar proposal the board had slated Election Day, Nov. 6, as a teacher workday, instead of closing schools completely.
Also, the negotiated contract with the teachers union requires teachers have 190 workdays — 10 more than students have. Four of those 10 days had been inside the student calendar. Now, only three teacher workdays fall inside the calendar, and no professional development days.
Five of the 10 workdays are teacher workdays, which teachers often use for grading. The other five days are for professional development, which teachers are required to attend.