Brunswick board supports adding religious holidays to school calendar

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BRUNSWICK — A proposed school calendar noting all major religious holidays received nearly unanimous support from the School Board and members of the public Wednesday night.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski created the draft in response to a request in January from a group of residents to add major Jewish holidays to the calendar.

The request drew criticism from some board members, with member Brenda Clough saying she believed that adding the holidays would demonstrate improper deference to an “outside group.”

Clough on Wednesday continued to suggest an immediate change is unwarranted.

The current school-year calendar already includes Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Good Friday.

After the Jan. 13 meeting, School Board Chairman Billy Thompson asked Perzanoski to pull together a calendar listing “every major religion’s holy days.”

Perzanoski presented that calendar at the Feb. 10 meeting, saying he had consulted 15-20 other school district calendars to see how they listed religious holidays, and ultimately decided that the Boston Public Schools’ calendar “best fit our needs.”

The Boston calendar notes the Christian holidays Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter; Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover; Muslim holidays Eid al-Adha and Ramadan; the Hindu holiday Diwali, and Kwanzaa.

At Wednesday’s meeting, several board members reported hearing a massive show of public support for the inclusive calendar from constituents and people outside of Brunswick.

Board member Teresa Gillis said she received “multiple emails” all supporting “the multi-faith calendar.”

Board member Sarah Singer said she had received 16 letters of support for adding the holidays, including two from town councilors. One letter, she said, was signed by nine rabbis.

During public comment, Douglas Street resident Natasha Goldman, who delivered the original request to the school board, said that she “fully support(ed) the new draft calendar.”

“Brunswick schools (should) respect and appreciate all students of all faiths,” she said.

Stanwood Street resident Michelle Small, a former School Board member, said the comments made in January by some board members “caught me off guard.”

“I think an ‘I’m sorry’ is due,” she added.

Clough, to whom the comment was directed, did not apologize.

Instead, she said she has been doing online research into how public and private schools and colleges in Maine, and around the country, list religious holidays on their calendars.

According to Clough, many of the calendars she saw, including in major cities like New York, were “silent” on the issue.

“I think we still have more work to do on this … we have an obligation to provide some policy guidance,” she said.

Singer pushed back.

“I’m sorry to contradict you,” she said. “(But) New York City public schools are closed on (religious holidays),” including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha.

She said that in light of that information, she believed the Brunswick Jewish community’s request to merely list holidays on the calendar “seems all the more modest.”

Other board members supported Singer.

Rich Ellis said that if given the chance to vote on the calendar immediately, he would vote in favor of it, “to put this issue to rest.”

“I don’t think we need to keep digging at this sore,” he said.

Board member Corinne Perreault agreed. The request, she said “is to (feel) more included.”

“I just don’t see how that could be a negative thing,” she added. “I think we need to have more tolerance and acceptance. … I’m floored right now.”

The draft calendar is posted on the board website, and public comment will be accepted until March 4, according to Perzanoski. The board will likely vote on a final version of the calendar at its March 9 meeting.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Goldman said she was pleased with the draft calendar.

“It looked like more people on the board were in favor,” she said.

Goldman said that in the end, she found the experience, despite the negative comments, to be a positive one.

She said that after the board meeting in January, she heard support from people she had never met, Jewish and non-Jewish.

“People really came out of the woodwork on this issue,” she said. “I feel more like I belong here than I have in the past five years.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick School Department headquarters at 46 Federal Street.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.
  • Brenda Clough

    This article is an example of questionable reporting taking bits of comments from different times and piecing them together in a way that distorts people’s comments. At the Feb. 10 School Board meeting, I commented that most official school calendars are silent on the issue of religious holidays and that I had found several that were examples of what I believed were best practice. These calendars not only included references to all major religious holidays but they linked their calendar to policies that provided guidance supportive of all religious faiths. I then added that I believed the School Board had more work to do and suggested that our Policy Committee review/update our current policy to provide the same type of guidance as some of the other calendars I had found during my, not exhaustive, research. At the January meeting when the School Board had received a request from one religious group to add their holidays to our calendar, I wondered how many other groups we may also receive similar requests from. My comments taken cumulatively indicate a broadening view of the issue of religious holidays on school calendars to include more than the one request originally received to all major faiths as well as updated policy guidance as well. The public process of building our school calendar includes time for discussion and questions from the school board and the public. This is the time to ask questions and gather information which informs the final product. The forum that the School Board has to conduct its business is in the public in real time which can be challenging at times. It is the responsibility of the press to report accurately to avoid unnecessary confusion and conflict. Brenda Clough

    • EABeem

      Perhaps you might explain what you meant by referring to Jews as an “outside group.” I believe that is what triggered all the attention.

    • Walter Wuthmann

      Brenda-

      I have reviewed the video from last night and stand by my reporting. You did say that in your research of other school districts, many were silent on the issue of religious holidays. You did not say, however, anything about calendars linking to policy guidance supporting all religious faiths, which you believed were “best practice,” as you write in the above comment. Perhaps this is what you meant when you referred to Boston and Montgomery County schools, although the language is unclear. Although you may have meant to say these were best practice because holidays linked directly to policy guidance outside the calendar, that statement is not on the record, which I reported. Other board members that night did not interpret this as the message of your statement, and board members Sarah Singer and Teresa Gillis “contradicted” you by saying New York city public schools were closed on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Eid al-Adha.

      You did recommend the policy committee look into the issue, and I quoted you saying “we have an obligation to provide some policy guidance.”

      Anyone wishing to review video from the Feb. 10 meeting can see it here, the discussion begins around 1:38:00-

      http://reflect.brunswick-me.cablecast.tv/TRMSVOD/3392-Brunswick-School-Board-2-10-2016-High-v1.mp4

      Walt

  • farmertom2

    This was a no brainer from the start and the fact that some had to be encouraged not to sit on their brains is unfortunate.
    Questionable reporting there was not.
    Questionable judgement on the part of Clough there was.

  • poppypapa

    I’m pretty sure I don’t have to watch any video to confirm that Festivus got no respect from the ruling elites as they reached their consensus.

    Has airing of grievances lost its universal appeal?

    • EABeem

      No, just feats of strength.

  • Chew H Bird

    While I am all for equal calendar time for all, it seems to me that a public school has a responsibility to note holidays that are observed by the actual school so the general public knows when school is in session or not. Additional holidays, (not observed by the school itself), whether they be religious or not might be noted as a courtesy, convenience, or simply information purposes.

    As for anyone planning school events and wondering about holidays that may impact those events, I view that knowledge and research as part of the basic job description for someone involved with any sort of planning.

  • jack bauer

    Separation of church and state? Hardly. This decision, if implemented as planned, will have far-reaching implications. Interesting how displaying a manger during Christmas can often create controversy even though Christmas is a federal holiday while incorporating all “major religious” holidays into the school calendar sails through with limited dissent. The doctrine of separation of church and state exists for a reason which will become apparent in the near future if this policy is implemented as planned.

    • farmertom2

      You misunderstand the establishment clause and its implications. The changes to the calendar will not cause anything like the disturbance that you foresee.

      • jack bauer

        Farmertom2,
        We have different crystal balls, farmertom2. While you offer false assurances, it is true that this policy will introduce additional religious pressures into the public school system. You may not observe any tangible difference tomorrow, but adding government sponsored, sacred religious dates to public school calendars will definitely have effects eventually. And those are effects which do not belong in public schools. Keep additional religiosity out of government!

        • farmertom2

          Pressures? The school calendar already listed Good Friday without significant social unrest or societal collapse. Adding Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Passover seem just as unlikely to throw the educational process into chaos.
          I agree that religion doesn’t belong in school, but just because Christianity gets a pass (“holiday” decorations, “holiday” concerts) doesn’t mean the most trivial notice paid to other holidays- holidays when children are likely to miss school or have unusual dietary requirements– should be avoided in the calendar. Merely making teachers aware of days when many students will be absent allows them to schedule tests and other events to avoid unnecessary problems with rescheduling. If you want to remove all reference to any holidays from the school calendar, sure, that works– except it’s less practical. And none of the calendar bits run counter to the establishment clause. I foresee no problems, and if problems the time to deal with them will be when they arise, not hiding from imagined problems that may never show up

          • jack bauer

            Farmertom2,
            Previously, you stated that problems from adding additional religious holidays to the school calendar will not arise. Now, you state that problems occurring are “unlikely.” Furthermore, the establishment clause is relevant to how public institutions are governed in this country. And exactly how the EC would, or wouldn’t, apply in this case is unsettled law. You note several Jewish religious holidays in your comment but noticeably did not list any Muslim holidays or Hindu holidays. And why is that? And what about Buddist holidays and the other religions of the world? What, if any regions would you exclude? Why are only “major religious” holidays under consideration? Who is the school board to decide what is “major” or not? By making these determinations which the board may feel are reasonable, they will be discriminating against any student whose religion is not considered ” major.” And aren’t public institutions prohibited by the U.S. law from engaging in discrimination based on religion. If you want to try to rid schools from observing federal holidays then go for it. Otherwise, keep additional religiosity out of public schools!

          • farmertom2

            Jack, you’re boring me. If there were a significant Hindu population at BHS then yeah, we should list the holidays that have an impact on their attendance. You’re seeing ghosts, smoke, spectres. Try to relax. The question is resolved for now and you should really find Something Else To Do And Worry About until an Actual Problem Arises, which I doubt it will since the school board will simply ADDRESS IT.

          • jack bauer

            Sure you’re bored. Boring people are easily bored.

          • farmertom2

            Philip Glass is boring. I am not boring. And I am not easily bored. Repetition is boring. (See Philip Glass reference.)

          • Call-Sol

            look up diff. between discrimination and accomodation….that is, if Philip Glass hasn’t fused your synapses.