After debate, religious holidays added back to CCHS calendar 

by Karina Coombs

Following hours of impassioned public comments and lengthy and sometimes emotional debate among the members of the Concord-Carlisle Regional (RSC) and Concord School Committees, the joint meeting voted to add the observance of two religious holidays back into the calendars for the 2017-18 school year, against the recommendations of the 2015 Joint Calendar Advisory Committee. The Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) and Concord Public schools will now be closed on September 21 and March 30, with the last day of school slated for June 14, barring any accumulated snow days.

Background

At the invitation of RSC Chair Bill Fink, Calendar Advisory Committee member Kathleen Snook began the evening’s discussion by explaining that the decision to remove the religious observances from the current and proposed calendar arose from the desire to provide teachers and students with “educational traction and continuity in the classroom” and to acknowledge an increasingly diverse population by being considerate of all religions as opposed to the few that had historically been represented in the calendar. She explained that the committee conducted research, surveyed the community and had six months of public meetings.

Audience input

Fink then invited more than a dozen parents and community members to speak, with the majority expressing their disappointment that the Jewish holidays had been removed. While acknowledging the schools allowed for absences for religious observation, they explained that it was a burden that left students catching up with missed work upon return, or missing special events that may still be happening without them. Speakers voiced concern that as a minority group, their voices were not being heard, adding that the schools were missing an opportunity to showcase diversity within Concord and Carlisle, particularly given what many referred to as today’s “political climate,” and considering recent incidents of racist grafitti within Concord. Rabbi Darby from Concord’s Karem Shalom spoke at length about the concerns of the community and called it the “removal of a welcome mat that once existed.”

A smaller number of speakers voiced their support for keeping the holidays off the calendar. One Concord parent, formerly of Carlisle, pointed out that the Carlisle Public School did not include holidays on the calendar. Describing schools as government and secular institutions, she said that she did not want to see her children either miss school or experience an altered curriculum because of the religious observances of others.

Holidays vs instruction time

–or– recognizing diversity 

There was also discussion about making sure the schools were consistent when it came to recognizing holidays, if there was the desire to capture and represent the diversity within the communities. One self-identified Muslim parent said that she was happy with the calendar the way it was, because she did not want to impose her religion on others, nor did she want her children to feel left out because their religion was not acknowledged. “It’s time taken away from instruction,” she said. 

President of the Concord Teachers Association Merrie Najimy agreed that closing the school for one religious holiday, but not another could leave children feeling their religion was not as important. She suggested considering a new task force with a much broader reach to look at the issues in an attempt to make all members of the community feel heard and respected and able to practice their religion without hardship.

Fink thanked everyone for their comments and noted the dozens of emails he had received on the topic since the last meeting. While thanking the time and effort of the Calendar Advisory Committee, members of both school committees took turns discussing their reaction to the comments they had heard, both inside and outside of the meeting.

RSC decision

While some wanted to keep with the process that had been agreed to, accepting the position of the advisory committee and not bending to “the loudest voices in the room,” the majority said that they thought the topic was sensitive enough to warrant the holidays being added back, with several members saying that national politics called for Concord and Carlisle to make a statement of support. 

Following a failed motion to approve the 2017-18 calendar as initially presented for both committees, a new motion was made that would close the schools for Rosh Hashanah and for Good Friday. The motion passed by a 5-2 RSC vote and 4-1 Concord School Committee vote. As part of the motion it was also agreed that the issues and concerns that arose during the process would be looked at in greater detail by a yet-to-be established advisory committee in the hope they could report back to the committees by May 2017, leaving open the chance that the holidays could once again disappear from the calendar. 

Financial business

In other news, a gasoline and diesel fuel bid was awarded to Dennis K. Burke, Inc. of Chelsea, one of three bids received. The term is three years. A 1.9 million dollar Bond Anticipation Note (BAN) was awarded to Eastern Bank of Boston with an interest rate of 1.10% for the Concord-Carlisle High School building project. ∆