Wellesley School Committee delays academic calendar vote to take matter of religious holidays under advisement

The Wellesley School Committee put off a vote on finalizing the 2024-25 academic year calendar during its Dec. 12 meeting (see Wellesley Media recording) citing a need to seek out additional insight around religious and cultural holidays, perhaps from the town’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force.

Wellesley High School
Wellesley High School

During Citizens Speak at the past two School Committee meetings, WPS families advocated for adding Lunar New Year and Eid to the school calendar and observing those religious holidays with a day off from school, joining Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Good Friday. During the Dec. 12 meeting, one parent explained that Eid is a joyful holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, a 30-day holy period in which Muslims fast during daylight hours. He said that the needs of Muslim students, faculty and staff should not be ignored any longer. “Why has Eid continued to be left out?” he asked.

Several other speakers echoed the sentiment that Muslim students’ experiences do not receive consideration by the schools, and that to add Eid to the calendar would reaffirm the commitment of the district not to add hardship to any one religious group.

During an earlier School Committee meeting, several community members during Citizens Speak advocated for Lunar New Year to be observed with a day off from school. A celebration of the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar, Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in China, as well as in many other Asian countries. In addition, Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, has been discussed at earlier meetings as a potential addition to the school calendar.

Currently in Wellesley religious holidays observed with days off on the school calendar include Rosh Hashanah (a Jewish holiday which always falls in September or October., but not always on a weekday); Yom Kippur (also a Jewish holiday that moves from year to year); and Good Friday (a Christian holiday with a fixed day but a moving date). Christmas always falls on Dec. 25, which is part of the school system’s yearly winter break.

There is a timing aspect to this decision. The School Committee’s bylaws state that an academic calendar must be approved by the end of December. In considering that rapidly approaching deadline, Committee Chair Craig Mack said, “We have an obligation to approve a calendar, but we need to respect our community.”

Other considerations brought up by Committee members during the meeting were that families who don’t celebrate a holiday would have to find child care on the day off; the concerns of people feeling like they and their culture are treated as invisible; and extending the school year further into June is likely to be unpopular with the community. In addition, due to the teachers’ contract, the school year may not spill over into July. So somehow, between the Wednesday before Labor Day and June 30, Wellesley schools must be in session for 180 days, per state law.

Not discussed: taking all religious holidays off the school calendar and putting policies in place to protect students who take the day off to observe the holiday; getting rid of February and April break and replacing them with a single break in March; and/or moving to a year-round school calendar, as have about a dozen districts in the United States.

Superintendent David Lussier weighed in saying it is important to be sensitive to the holidays, “but the School Committee needs consistency and coherence, with the help of the Diversity Task Force. There must be a clear and transparent process that’s used in discussing these and other holidays going forward.”

Dr. Jorge Allen, WPS Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, said should the School Committee vote to add only Lunar New Year, it would “send an exclusive message to the families who were advocating for Eid. Anything we add to the calendar is, in a way, excluding other groups.”

In the end, the Committee did not take a vote on the 2024-25 academic calendar in order to take the matter of holidays under advisement, and to ensure that the full School Committee was present for further discussion and for the vote. (Leda Eizenberg was absent during the Dec. 12 meeting.)

Discussion of the academic calendar for the 2024-25 school year, and potentially a vote, will take place during the next School Committee meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 6pm, online. The agenda is posted here.

Feedback can be provided to the School Committee at School_Committee@wellesleyps.org or at public comment Tuesday evening.

The WPS administration has provided several calendar options for consideration that would add more religious and cultural holidays.

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