Education

Why there’s no school Thursday for most Wake County students

Rabbi Bluming and the Shofar Factory

Rabbi Zalman Bluming of Chabad Durham-Chapel Hill led a "Shofar Factory" to help prepare children for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at the Lerner Jewish Community Day School in Durham on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015.
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Rabbi Zalman Bluming of Chabad Durham-Chapel Hill led a "Shofar Factory" to help prepare children for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at the Lerner Jewish Community Day School in Durham on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015.

The majority of Wake County’s schools are closed Thursday so that Jewish students can celebrate Rosh Hashanah without having to be marked absent from class.

Thursday is a teacher workday for traditional-calendar schools. So, only staff are required to come in on Rosh Hashanah, which marks the start of the Jewish New Year. Wake historically has tried to include a day off for traditional-calendar students on either Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

“We develop a calendar that serves students first,” said Tamani Anderson-Powell, liaison to the school district’s calendar committees. “But we also want to create a calendar that serves the community as well.”

Each year, committees made up of school district staff and community members develop schedules for each of the district’s many calendars. They’re then voted on by the school board, such as in May when this year’s calendars were changed to make the Tuesday before Thanksgiving a half day for all students.

Anderson-Powell said the committees have to work within the limits of North Carolina’s school calendar law, which sets when traditional-calendar schools are allowed to begin and end the school year. But when there’s an extra workday, vacation day or holiday available, she said, the committee that works on the traditional calendar tries to build in a day off for one of the Jewish holy days.

“If we’re able to honor one of the high holy days, we do,” she said.

Next year’s traditional-school calendar has a vacation day on Yom Kippur, meaning neither students nor staff have to report in on Sept. 19, 2018.

A mid-week day off for the majority of Wake’s 161,000 students can be challenging for families who prefer having workdays on Fridays or Mondays. When the school board considered not having a workday in 2015 for Yom Kippur because it was on a Thursday, the Jewish community successfully lobbied for the day to remain a day off for students.

Jewish students who don’t attend traditional-calendar schools can get an excused absence for Thursday. Jewish school employees can also get Thursday off if they work it out with their supervisor.

Wake will begin working on 2019-20 calendars in October. People who are interested in serving on on any of the calendar committees can send an email to tanderson-powell@wcpss.net.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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