Jews object to 1994 school start date

Harford County's Jewish population is counting on the "wisdom" of the school board to overturn a committee's recommendation that would start school next year on Rosh Hashana, one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.

The calendar committee voted 7-3 in late September to start school next year on Sept. 6, the day after Labor Day, and end school on June 16. For the 1995-1996 school year, classes would begin Sept. 5 and end June 13.


The committee will present its recommendation to the school board at the board's Oct. 11 meeting.

"I believe the wisdom of the board will recognize the minority community's religious beliefs and do the right thing, by delaying the opening of school by one day to Sept. 7," said Rabbi Kenneth B. Block of the Harford Jewish Center, the county's only synagogue.


About 200 families are members of the Jewish Center, Mr. Block said, adding that some 200 to 300 other Jewish families live in the county.

Mr. Block said he and other members of the synagogue have written letters to school board members urging them to start school on Sept. 7.

The school system has said that Jewish students may stay home on the first day of Rosh Hashana, a 10-day period that marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and receive an "excused absence," but Mr. Block said that that is not the point.

"The first day of school has a special mystique about it. Imagine starting the first day of a new job on Christmas," he said.

School board member Anne Sterling said Thursday that she expects the school board to push the opening back by a day to avoid a conflict with Rosh Hashana.

"I believe this will be a very easy decision for the school board to make," she said. "In the past, we have been very sensitive to all religious groups," she said.

Joyce Eaton, chairman of the calendar committee, said the group had long discussions about the issue before deciding on the Sept. 6 opening day. She said the committee based its decision on the results of a survey sent home with the county's 35,000 students the first week of school.

"The response was overwhelming that parents wanted school to start after Labor Day while ending as early in June as possible," she said Thursday. Starting school on Sept. 7 would mean ending school on June 19, a Monday instead of a Friday, she said.


Mrs. Eaton declined to release the number of surveys returned or the tallied results.

"We got back thousands of surveys. The response was unbelievable," she said.

Mark Wolkow, who was a member of the committee and is Jewish, said he will have no choice but to keep his two daughters, 7 and 5, home from Abingdon Elementary if school starts on Rosh Hashana.

"Education and religion are both more important than which day we begin our summer vacation," said Mr. Wolkow, who voted against starting the school year on Rosh Hashana.