Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Friday, April 8, 2011

Answering questions about the District calendar and holiday decisions..

In the comments for another post, a reader questioned the District's calendar policy and how breaks and holidays are determined. I thought I'd share my most recent response here, in case others have wondered.

First, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Passover is “overlooked”. I'm told that Passover has been considered by the Calendar Committee every year. The creation of the District calendar is more complicated than most people realize.

Generally speaking, each year’s school calendar has to account for statutory holidays first, and then account for recess periods that the community has come to expect (e.g., in Ridgewood we are used to a full week in December, a full week in February and a full week in April)…all while ensuring the calendar starts out with 182 school days scheduled for students and 187 work days scheduled for teachers.

The challenge with Passover is that its dates typically vary from late March to mid- to late April. The Calendar Committee tries to avoid scheduling the “Spring Recess” week too close to, or too far away from, the “Winter Recess” week in February. Generally it looks to schedule the Spring Recess as close to eight weeks after the Winter Recess as possible to provide the best balance of rest and instructional continuity for the students. The challenges they face doing that are: 1) not closing school on dates around this time when state tests are typically administered (normally sometime in April) and not closing school the weeks before testing so that students have the best opportunities to be prepared; and 2) trying to make sure that schools are open on the annual school election date so that Village residents who can only take vacations during the school recess week are not forced to miss the election or vote with absentee ballots.

Days off for Passover might also be scheduled outside of Spring Recess, but that would add additional length to the overall school year. Depending on who you talk to, the important Passover celebration days may be the first day, the first two days, or the first two and last two days. Using this year as an example, that could have pushed the students’ last day of school to Friday, 6/24 (which creates conflicts for many families of graduating seniors who want to leave for vacations), to Monday, 6/27 or to Tuesday, 6/28. The later in June schools must be open: 1) the more “hot summer days” we may have to deal with in classrooms; 2) the more we will interfere with families’ vacation plans and students’ summer job and/or summer school plans; and 3) the smaller our “cushion” will be in the event we have a large number of inclement weather closures during the year and we need to stay open longer at the end of the year.

Some people feel that scheduling Good Friday off and not scheduling Passover off is unfair. Whether it’s “right” or “wrong”, Good Friday is a statutory holiday in New Jersey.

If we had fewer educational challenges, and more flexibility, to schedule our Spring Recess where we wanted to, I believe Passover would be a priority for scheduling Spring Recess in Ridgewood. The district has a history of scheduling school closures for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when they fall on school days, even when it results in single days off in the middle of the week.

Finally, Regulation No. 8810 (Religious Holidays) in the Board Policy Manual (on the District website) specifically addresses the rules for homework and tests/quizzes around religious holidays. If a parent feels that teachers are not following the Regulation, they should bring it to the Principals’ attention.


Anonymous said...


I see what you're saying, but since the first nights of Passover this year are the same week as Good Friday, which is only one week after the scheduled break, why isn't the break that week? We've had later spring breaks before. This one seems like it should have been an easy call.

For the record, I'm probably in the minority, but I'd have no problem shrinking the February break to a four day weekend and ending the school year earlier in June.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, although I appreciate your response, I'm not sure you actually addressed my question and your answer here may be misleading to those who did not read my comment on the earlier thread you mentioned.

I asked specifically about this year since the scheduled week off is the very week before Passover this year. As I explained on the prior thread, the first two nights of Passover are the Seder nights which are significant in the practice of religious ritual as well as a time for extended family and friends to gather and share in this ritual. This often involves at least light travel for some families.

Even if the entire week of the break couldn't be moved (although you did not indicate in your response a specific reason why it couldn't have been moved by one week this year), why not at least two days of it to accommodate the Seder nights immediately following the week scheduled for break. Whatever the state recognizes, Ridgewood has a significant enough Jewish population that would warrant consideration of our holidays, certainly at least when it is possible. Yet Ridgewood's policy has been to ignore as much as possible historically.

Rosh Hashanah is actually two days and nights and after requests had been ignored, virtually every Jew in Ridgewood had to show up at a BOE meeting with members of the clergy years ago just to get one of those days observed. As the dates of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur vary from year to year, they sometimes fall on weekends requiring no consideration on the school calendar and getting no consideration from the majority of the faculty regarding homework.

Both teachers and principals do nothing to enforce no homework during these holidays. Case in point; my daughter came home on a Seder night with homework including studying for a Spanish test. I called the principal who assured me he would speak to the teacher that day, as she was still there, and that there would be no test. The next day, the Spanish teacher handed out what was called a "worksheet" explaining to the class that they had to complete this "worksheet" on there own without benefit of any books or notes and it would be graded and given the same weight of as test.

Upon finding this out, I called the principal again who questioned my motives for calling and asked how my child did on the test. He did nothing further to resolve the issue and the "worksheet" counted as a test. This is typical of my experiences with each of my children over the years. These rules, as I already told you Laurie, are not enforced.

I certainly never suggested that the school year be extended to accommodate Passover or any other holiday, so I'm not sure why you mentioned that Laurie. Again, I only asked why this year, or any year that it might be possible, that the dates of the break couldn't be moved by a few days. I don't think that this simple courtesy to the many Jewish families with children in our schools was a lot to ask for in this specific case.

Laurie, as I previously requested, I would still like to know specific information regarding how the calendar committee is formed each year, and would truly appreciate if you could make a copy of Regulation No. 8810 of the Board Policy Manual available on either this site or the School District site.

Perhaps it would be of some assistance in enforcing it if copies were emailed to the principals and faculty members at the beginning of the school year as a reminder and copies were posted in places where they would be readily accessible to the faculty. I know a teacher who works for another school district that does this and it has made a big difference in the observance of these regulations.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point 2:59 as the April break is usually scheduled on the week of Good Friday. It seems extra insensitive to change that this year.

Laurie said...

My answer focused more on the general process, than on what exactly was involved in the decisions regarding this year's calendar, because I was not there in the committee meetings and cannot tell you exactly what the discussion entailed.

I will definitely follow-up with more information on how the calendar committee -- which as I recall is made up of about 12-15 people -- is formed, but the person who can give me the details is out of town today and part of next week. As soon as I get the info I'll post it here.

I am not sure how to post documents (as opposed to photos) onto this site...let me check it out. But in the meantime, the Policy 8810 is always on the District Website, click Board Policy Manual on the far left of the homepage, and then scroll down to 8810. I will also pass on the suggestion about informing principals and faculty to the superintendent. If you have had a particular incident with a teacher and/or principal, and it has not been resolved to your satisfaction or you feel that your concern is not being heard, please contact the superintendent.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, it is not 8810 but R 8810 (a different page in manual)
for the convenience of blogger, I have copied below from district website;

Teachers will accommodate pupils who are observing religious holidays. Issues related to
religious observance or absences should be handled with sensitivity and tact. The district shall
distribute annually a list of religious holidays, published by the Commissioner of Education, to
administrators, faculty, and staff.
Individual Pupils
When a parent informs an administrator, in writing that his/her child will be observing a religious holiday or be absent for a religious holiday, then the following procedures will apply to that child:
1. No homework will be assigned for the period of the religious holiday.
2. No homework will be assigned on the weekend during which a pupil is
celebrating a religious holiday.
3. No homework assignment or project will be due on the day after the religious
4. Pupils celebrating a weekend religious holiday or a religious holiday during the week will be exempt from tests or quizzes on the day they are out or on the day
following the holiday. Tests or quizzes missed may be made up at another time.
5. Teachers will provide opportunities for pupils to makeup work that occurred during their absence and, where practicable, to make up activities that occurred
during their absence.
When, based on pupil absentee records, a significant number of pupils will be absent on a
religious holiday, the above guidelines will apply to all pupils. "Significant" - when historically
the average absentee rate for the holiday in question is five percentage points higher than the
district average daily attendance rate. The following will apply to all pupils:
1. No tests or quizzes will be given on the holiday in question.
2. Field trips and special school activities, e.g., pupil election, assemblies, programs,
and other special activities will not be scheduled on the holiday in question.
3. Homework will not be due on the holiday in question.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, I think tyou did an excellent explanation of the difficulties of planning the school calendar, and don't think you owe anyone more an explanation concerning their complaint about this years calendar. I would urge them to volunteer to be on the calendar committee. My previous post which copied the board manual had a surprise in there for me and I'll bet most parents. It is the parents responsibility to send an individual note about their child's holday observance to the teacher in advance. That might be a good thing for teachers to mention on back to school night.

Anonymous said...

6:08, it seems that this person already asked about how to get involved on the calendar committee. I don't think he/she needs your two cents about volunteering. It comes across as hostile. And your personal opinion on what a school board member "owes" regarding this issue is equally unwelcome and hostile. If you have nothing material to add, why butt in at all?

Anonymous said...

to 12:29 pm; I think that if you read this string of posts, you are correct and I would appear a bit snippy. For this I apologize.

However, the conversation began under the "Resident Gerry Clark has withdrawn from BOE race." article, and both my (incorrectly assumed) background and my lack of intelligence and caring.

I did have somethings to add, I posted a copy of the page from the Board Policy Manual, as the blogger requested. I also noted that the procedures are probably not what parents think they are and suggested they be discussed at Back to School night.

I noted that after Laurie explained it was a difficult task and there were volunteer opportunities to help with the difficult process in the future, the blogger still wanted a justification of why it didn't happen the bloggers way this year.

I felt I was coming to Laurie's defense. I was feeling snippy after the previous exchange, and I accept your correction as to my attitude. I should always take a deep breath before hitting the enter key. Thank You.

Anonymous said...

2:52, while I appreciate your sentiments, I think you should cut the same slack you're looking for to the person who commented on the previous thread you referred to.

I think you misunderstood that person's intention in questioning the way this year's April break was handled. I suppose I sympathise with that person because I have felt that frustration many times throughout the years my children have attended Ridgewood schools. No one I've ever reached out to in the administration about this welcomed my comments, questions or suggestions. In fact, the responses I received were all too often hostile and sometimes down right insulting. Now that I know about this calendar committee, I look forward to hearing more about it. I too would love an opportunity to participate and contribute to the process.

Anonymous said...

to 5:12 pm, I see your point, I apologize as I did not mean to give offense.

michael gross said...

Dear Laurie,
Glen Rock has Passover off every year, this year Passover is the week before Easter and was timed 8-9 weeks from washingtons birthday.It is a problem that you especially with elections coming up wont commit to having passover off, when it is within one week of easter.Approximately 10% and a growing portion of the school aged. children wont have the holiday off because of those on the school board at least perceive lack of sensitivity non christian religon.To any others the website the lack of sensitivity for our holidays drive jewish people into fair lawn and glen rock, i have contacted the rabbis at the ridgewood synagogue and would love to put together a commitee of concerned jewish parents, if anybody would like to email me its rheumatology1999@yahoo.com, my daughter is at somerville were hopeful that we will stay indistrict but are pessimistic

Anonymous said...


Regulation 8810 should be amended in that students, particularly the older ones, should be able to inform their teachers of upcoming holidays. Most high school students do not want their parents doing for them what they can do themselves. Also, why does notice have to be in writing? It would be more appropriate and make more sense for the teachers to be provided with a list of the holidays included in the regulation. They should address the holiday issue with the class to see where accommodations need to be made. Students who observe these holidays should be accommodated in a way that causes the least disruption for them as well as the class. That helps teach our students tolerance and sensitivity to others while taking the awkwardness out of these issues for students.

Also, you have not yet addressed what specific circumstances this year prompted a change from the typical week off leading into Good Friday to this week. Had we stuck with the norm, this would have been a rare opportunity for Jewish students to have Passover, particularly the two Seder nights, off. How do you justify this?

Laurie said...

As I mentioned last week, the person who could give me more info on how this year’s calendar was created has been out of town. I spoke with him today and can share the following with you.

For the 2010-11 calendar (the one we’re currently in), when the calendar was created, the state of New Jersey had not yet released its dates for state testing. They were delayed and, in fact, the date that they release the testing dates is not consistent from year to year. So the calendar was created using the District’s best educated guess as to when state testing would take place – the assumption was that testing would be the last week of April (April 25-29). Because, as I explained last week, the District doesn’t want students to have a week off directly before testing (so that students can review and prepare), that is why the break was not scheduled for April 18-22 (which would have included Passover and Good Friday).

After the calendar was approved, the District received word that this year’s state testing would begin on May 3, which is very late and which was not predicted.

I can tell you the following about the next two school calendars, which have been approved:

In 2012, April Break includes both Passover and Easter:
Passover is April 6-14, Good Friday is April 6 and the School Break is April 6-15.

In 2013, April Break doesn’t include Passover or Easter:
Passover is Mar. 25-April 2, Good Friday is Mar. 29 and the School Break is April 8-12.

The members of the Calendar Committee include teachers (sourced through the REA leadership), parents (sourced through HSAs) and students (chosen by principals). The committee usually meets in the Fall.

I've tried to explain the fairly complicated process that tries to balance learning time, testing, mandated holidays and other holidays, and District customs. If you have concerns or issues with school calendars or the decisions that are made, you should direct your comments or suggestions to Superintendent Dr. Dan Fishbein at dfishbein@ridgewood.k12.nj.us.

I will pass along to Dr. Fishbein the suggestions regarding the communication and enforcement of Regulation R8810 from the District's Policy.

(And since this comment applies to two simultaneous conversations -- both "Resident Gerry Clark..." and "Answering questions..." I'm going to post it under both.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Laurie, but your response to why our week off did not include Passover just doesn't pass muster. Even if testing wasn't scheduled yet, that does not explain why the week off couldn't have started two days later so that we could have had no school on the Seder nights this Monday and Tuesday. Frankly, if the teachers were doing what they're supposed to do all year long, they wouldn't have to cram with the students the week before a test. What kind of an example is that to set? The real answer to the question is that no one involved in this process cares about how these decisions effect others of different religions. The rare occasion we get any break on Passover is coincidence, same as Hanukah.

As far as what you're passing along to Dr Fishbein is concerned, as his employers, we will expect the board to monitor his treatment of these issues to insure that the appropriate actions are taken.

If I sound frustrated Laurie, it's because nothing significant has so far been done about this and it's been a long long time coming. There's just no excuse anymore.

Laurie said...

I understand. All I can do regarding this year is report to you what the administrator who coordinates the calendar process told me about conversations that happened in the committee, which I was not present for and which met over a year ago.

I will pass along feedback from our conversation, but I also have to follow the Board's policy (based on law) regarding complaints or requests going to Dr. Fishbein. I can say that I personally will keep all this in mind the next time the BOE reviews/approves the calendar committee's recommendation (if I'm still on the Board next year). Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, okay Laurie. Sounds like what I've heard many times before. Nothing ever changes.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading this exchange of comments and I have to say, I give Laurie credit for trying to answer your questions which are unanswerable without tracking down the people who made the decisions for this year's calendar. I worked on the calendar committee a few years ago. Let me tell you, people in Ridgewood do not want their "traditions" to change. At that time, someone suggested changing the Feb and April breaks so that school could get out earlier, and you would think it was the end of the world! Most Ridgewood parents want the full week in Feb and the full week in April.

Maybe nothing ever changes...because maybe the majority doesn't want it to change.

Anonymous said...

12:40 the week of the break did change this year, a rare year that Passover could have been accommodated by default had we stuck with the norm. You missed the point. The BOE could have, years ago, gotten involved in this issue or at least in the implementation of regulations whose purpose are to allow students who have school during their holidays a chance to observe them, but they have not. The same problems are as fresh and unresolved as they ever were.

Given Laurie's "reasons" that things worked out the way they did this year, the question remains as to why we will be returning from break just in time for these two Seder nights. They could have easily been accommodated. For what it's worth, I have never heard of any state testing being done on the heels of a Jewish holiday.

As far as your final remark about "majority" is concerned, it is not about majority. There is a significant enough Jewish population in our schools to expect some sensitivity and enforcement of district regulations. Why would anyone speak out against this? What's wrong with you? You sound like a bigot.

Laurie said...

I understand that "you sound like a bigot" is not exactly the same as calling someone a bigot, but I'd like to remind everyone to keep things civil here. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, the few people that participate on the Calendar Committee through some subjective process hardly represent what the needs of the village are. In the context of this topic, the comment at 12:40 does seem highly insensitive at best and perhaps bigoted as well. So why not call it what it is? Maybe you are not in a position to relate to this, but we shouldn't need a majority, as this commenter suggests, to be respectful of others. Maybe we can't always accommodate everyone, but we certainly can and should always be sensitive and respectful.

Laurie said...

One of my basic beliefs is that reasonable people can disagree. I could revise it to "reasonable people can disagree, respectfully."

While I'm here, I wanted to note that I was just at Somerville school, where a parent with children in three grades told me her children's classes had no homework last night due to Passover.

Anonymous said...

Come on Laurie, what on earth does that prove? If members of the community say there's a problem, there's a problem. I hardly think you're brief observation should erase years of real issues.

Anonymous said...

...and last night my son at the high school came home with no homework due to Passover.

Laurie said...

All it "proves" is that at least three classes at Somerville (and apparently at least one at RHS) didn't have homework out of respect for those celebrating Passover. One could infer that there is some respect and sensitivity being exercised by at least some in the district.

I did not mean to imply that this observation was the be-all and end-all. It was just an observation...another piece of the big picture.

Anonymous said...

...and both of my kids, one at the high school and one at the middle school, both came home with homework.

No one ever claimed that there were no teachers who respected their students' rights to observe their religious holidays. The problems lie in the wording of the district policy, the lack of a policy insuring well rounded representation on the Calendar Committee and the lack of any actions that would enforce district policy.

I commend each and every teacher that takes it upon him or herself to respect these holidays, but that does not take the place of proper district policy and compliance.

Anonymous said...

I am 2:24 pm, my son came home today with homework, he was told no homework for first night of passover only.
I agree with you Laurie, this doesn't "prove" something, it is anecdotal, but I thought good to know.