LEWISTON — The School Committee voted 5-4 Monday to resume holding classes on two Jewish holidays next year.

In March, the committee unanimously passed a motion designating Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as school holidays.

Rosh Hashana is celebrated as the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, is a day of atonement and repentance.

However, Superintendent Jake Langlais recommended Monday that the committee remove the holidays from future school calendars, citing a “strong community push.”



Committee members expressed divided opinions. Some defended the holidays for equity reasons, while others said taking two days off for the small number of students and staff who celebrate was impractical.

Representatives from Ward 1, 2, 6 and 7, along with the City Council representative, voted to approve the recommendation after 30 minutes of discussion.

Lewiston Public Schools does not record the religious affiliations of students and staff, making it difficult to judge how many people benefit from the addition of the two holidays, Langlais said. Instead, he distributed a survey to students, staff and community members, which returned mixed results.

According to the survey, 76% of the 147 responses received from community members indicated they did not want to keep Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as holidays on the school calendar. In contrast, 54% of the 487 staff respondents voted to keep the holidays.

The majority of students who responded voted to keep the holidays (85% of 108 respondents), however Langlais said many comments indicated that students would only want the holidays if they did not have to make them up in June.

Because Maine law requires schools to have at least 175 days of class, the inclusion of the holidays means that two school days would need to be added in June. Due to these comments, Langlais said he believes there to be less support among students for keeping the holidays than the survey suggests.

Langlais continued to explain that the new holidays caused confusion among school community members who forgot that there was no school on Sept. 7, Rosh Hashana, and Sept. 16, Yom Kippur. Additionally, by recognizing the holidays, Lewiston Public Schools started the year with two three-day weeks and a four-day week.

Instead, Langlais recommended that the Jewish holidays be removed from the school calendar with the understanding that the school will support students and staff who wish to take those days off.

Several committee and community members expressed their disapproval of the recommendation.

“I’m a bit appalled by this conversation,” said Tanya Whitlow, representing Ward 4. “I think that what we did was equitable, and I would not be in favor of us going back to the way it was.”

Kiera Sorumeito, a teacher at McMahon Elementary School, argued that the decision cannot be based on numbers because there are no significant populations of Jews anywhere due to the Holocaust. “If every community were to take that stance, Judaism would continue to not be recognized.”

Others saw it differently.

“From the beginning of the school year, there’s a momentum that needs to start and to build to get everybody going and up to speed,” Ward 6 representative Ronald Potvin said. “To not have the full week was difficult across the board for everybody. … I was struck by the number of students who questioned ‘Why can’t we go to school, we’re not Jewish?'”

Ward 7 representative Paul Beauparlant was torn on the decision: “I don’t know how I’m going to really feel about this until the vote comes up. I want to recognize the importance of it for the people who practice it, but not necessarily extend the school year for those that don’t practice it.”

Both representatives voted to approve the recommendation.

David Allen is president of Temple Shalom synagogue in Auburn. If the committee had asked the temple leadership’s opinion before voting, they would have encouraged the schools to keep the holidays, he said. However, he is “not strongly opposed” to taking it off of the calendar.

“It’s nice to be recognized, because so often Jewish holidays haven’t been recognized,” he said. “But we’re also a significant minority. So as long as we’re not discriminated against or penalized, etc. I don’t know that it’s that important to have an issue.”

In January this year, the committee also voted to include Eid, two Muslim celebrations, in the school calendar as holidays. There were no discussions Monday about removing these holidays.

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