It took two motions and two votes, but the Wellesley School Committee on Tuesday approved the addition of three holidays to the academic calendar for the 2024-25 school year. (See Wellesley Media recording of the meeting.)
Diwali, Lunar New Year, and Eid al-Fitr will join Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Good Friday as days off for students, faculty, and staff.
After the School Committee delayed a vote on finalizing the 2024-25 academic year calendar during its Dec. 12 meeting, citing a need to seek out additional insight around religious and cultural holidays, four calendar options were made publicly available to the community.
One week later on Dec. 19, the School Committee after discussion first voted on a motion to pass option A, which would have kept the school calendar the same, with no additional holidays added on. That vote did not pass.
The School Committee then voted on a motion to pass option D, which added three cultural or religious holidays to the school calendar, and retained the three that have been part of the calendar in the past. That vote passed.
The dates for the religious/cultural holidays during the 2024-25 school year will be as follows:
- *Yom Kippur
- Rosh Hashanah—Thursday, Oct. 3
- Diwali—Friday, Nov. 1
- Lunar New Year—Wednesday, Jan. 29
- Eid al-Fitr—Monday, March 31
- Good Friday—Friday, Apr. 18
*Falls on a Sunday in 2024, therefore no school day off next year.
School Committee Chair Craig Mack expressed appreciation for feedback and comments from the community that poured in over a four-day period ahead of the vote—in over 75 emails, in addition to phone calls and in-person conversations, stakeholders let their opinions be known about what the school calendar should look like.
Superintendent David Lussier confirmed that his office also received communications from the public reflecting a range of opinions which he said was “in line with the feedback the School Committee got.”
“What stood out to me is that the responses were all over the place,” Vice Chair Catherine Mirick said. “There were people who thought we had too many holidays, and people who thought we had not enough holidays. And that’s just the small sample size that had time and took the effort to send us something.”
A few things stood out for me, too, as the Committee members discussed the five calendar options, presented and referred to as Calendars A through D. First was a levity to the process at the start by one member. Second was a stunning lack of civil discourse by the Chair.
First the levity. In early comments, Leda Eizenberg said, “I asked my 10 year old, who felt that if we really believe in inclusion and care about belonging, then we should have the six holidays. So she voted for Calendar D,” as did Eizenberg.
If you find it interesting that a 10-year old gets an informal, non-binding vote on a School Committee issue, just wait. There’s more.
Chair Craig Mack, in an 11th-hour move, tried his hardest to wipe Good Friday off the 2024-25 school calendar. This despite the fact that out of the 4 calendar options made public to the community ahead of time, not one of them listed the Christian holiday as possibly being left off.
The Chair first identified Good Friday as a day that has been “given” off, as if bestowed by the benevolence of a 5-member board, rather than negotiated during public meetings over 20 years ago. If a holiday is “given,” by the powers that be, then a holiday can therefore can be taken away. So celebrate the expansion of religious and cultural representation in next year’s school calendar cautiously. It just might be a one-off.
Perhaps removing Good Friday from the school calendar will turn out to be the thing to do going forward. But that wasn’t for Mack to put forward unilaterally at the last minute. It’s for the community to weigh in on. Linda Chow in noting the wide range of public opinion in the emails suggested, “there’s a lot more analysis that we could do…maybe we step back and take a much bigger picture look at our calendar and consider what some towns nearby and across the Commonwealth are doing, which is really just to observe the state and federal holidays.”
Mack then suggested that the School Committee, that very night, could quite easily remove Good Friday. “Even though we have it on the calendar, we have not voted, but perhaps that is a day we could take off [the calendar] if we’re going to consider Option D, if you will.”
After calling himself a “recovering Catholic,” a pejorative term if ever there was one, I had to wonder. Would Mack during a public meeting have characterized any other religion as something from which one needed to recover, as from a disease? I can’t imagine that, just because it was said with a “kidding, not kidding” smile, the jab went over the head of every one of his other four Committee colleagues, as well as the five school department employees in attendance during the Zoom meeting. Yet nobody called Mack out.
Mack said he checked in with Catholic churches in town. His discovery: that Good Friday is NOT a holy day of obligation, a fact he relayed with something close to glee, as if he’d caught out the Catholic church in an as-yet undocumented mortal sin.
Data point: “holy days of obligation” isn’t terminology that most Christian denominations use. It doesn’t mean those days aren’t sacred to the non-Catholics who observe the string of religious days. But why did Mack hold up the Catholic Church as the standard, a denomination that according to the Pew Research Center makes up only about 20% of Christians in the United States? Why weren’t other religious leaders in town consulted?
Craig argued that removing the day would be fine, “As it’s not associated with part of Holy Week or Easter for the folks who are Christian and celebrate, but Good Friday is not a day that would be expected to be off.”
Such a full recovery has Mack made from the disease of Catholicism that he’s forgotten that Good Friday is, indeed, a part of Holy Week. But hey, if Mack wants to make holy days of obligation the standard for which Christian holidays should be “given” off, then look out—there are generally half a dozen per year that fall on a weekday. Sometimes more.
Anyway, what “expectations” as identified by Mack have to do with anything, I’m not sure. I thought what the School Committee was trying to do during this meeting was ascertain what was important to the community, something Eizenberg touched on.
“I understand the importance of gathering data and feedback and all these things, but does it then become the population size, or are we somehow in the position of gauging a holiday’s import? Short of getting rid of everything—which is still sort of problematic because Christmas is a federal holiday—I’m not sure what criteria we come up with. To me, folks who have come forward and said how it feels to not have their holidays acknowledged and observed is sort of more compelling to me in a way than numbers or an attempt to rank holidays by import.”
Christina Horner, who said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the diversity of comments that the Committee received, advocated for looking at adding religious holidays to the school calendar through a lens of equity, diversity, and belonging. “I’m feeling like yes, it would be nice to continue the conversation, but we do have a deadline. And also, I feel as if we wait, we are basically reinforcing a message that the Christian and the Jewish holidays are the only ones that are going to matter. That does not sit well with me…I can’t sit with it.”
In the end, the majority of the School Committee members stood with Horner, and voted to add three holidays to the 2024-25 academic calendar.
Here’s how the voting went:
A first motion was made by Mirick, seconded by Chow, to go with Option A (which did not include the addition of any new holidays, and kept Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Good Friday as days off)
That vote went as follows:
- Mirick, yes
- Eizenberg, no
- Chow, yes
- Horner, no
- Mack, no
Option A did not pass.
Next, a motion was made by Mack, seconded by Horner, to go with Option D (which includes the addition of Diwali, Lunar New Year, and Eid al-Fitr, and the retention of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Good Friday)
That vote went as follows:
- Horner, yes
- Mirick, no
- Eizenberg, yes
- Chow, no
- Mack, yes
During ending remarks, Mack said the work on the matter of holidays and observances is expected to continue going forward and thanked everybody saying, “The input and the discussion and the respectful nature, I’m very proud of our community because we got so many respectful perspectives. So thank you, everyone.”
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