Jewish groups threaten legal action after Bristol-Warren sets first day of school as Rosh Hashanah

BRISTOL, RI (WLNE) – Religious leaders in Rhode Island are calling on the Bristol-Warren Regional School District to change the 2021-22 school calendar as the first day of school falls on Rosh Hashanah.

The two-day celebration is one of the holiest holidays in the Jewish religion.

“Jewish educators and families are not asking for anything huge, they are just asking that their first day of school not be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar – Rosh Hashanah,” said Stephanie Hague of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.

The organization held a press conference outside the United Brothers synagogue in Bristol on Thursday, demanding that the start date be changed.

“People here today have written letters, petitions to school committee members, the NEA has filed a grievance, and they have all encountered no change,” Hague added.

Donna Stouber, a teacher at Kickemuit Middle School, said she learned about the date conflict a month ago and contacted the superintendent, who told her to bring the issue to the school committee.

Stouber said she only heard from three of the nine members, and only one apologized and put the topic on the next meeting’s agenda for discussion.

But when it happened, she said, it was rejected.

“The school committee voted 5-4 against even discussing the topic,” she said.

Stouber then filed a discrimination complaint against the school committee.

The National Education Association of Rhode Island said it is proceeding with a grievance hearing on the matter and will use expedited arbitration to have the date moved.

“We implore the school committee to just do the right thing,” said Jennifer Azevedo, deputy executive director of NEA RI.

Now, the groups are threatening to sue if the date is not changed soon.

“We are not asking for more. We are demanding. The first day of school will not be Rosh Hashanah. It is a promise. It won’t happen, ”said Rabbi Barry Dolinger, chairman of the Council of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.

Stouber, who taught at the college for nearly 30 years, said she would be forced to miss the first day of school this year due to the conflict.

“The fact that the first day of school is Rosh Hashanah definitely interferes with my ability to create a first impression with my students, to establish my rituals and routines, to comfort my students who are feeling nervous on the first day of school,” she declared. “The first day of middle school is very stressful for the students, and my students will not have their teacher there. They will not have their main there either.

Parents are equally frustrated.

Carly Reich, parent of a high school student and a college student, is also a member of the school committee. She said the issue had made her sad and frustrated.

“I feel like it’s an easy fix, something that can be fixed relatively quickly. It’s a day, ”said Reich. “I have been in contact with a lot of different teachers and other families who agree. But that being said, I don’t understand, not only as a parent but as a member of the school committee, why this topic has become such a controversial topic.

Reich said she initially voted in favor of the university calendar before realizing the conflict. Now she is hoping that her fellow school committee members choose to change the date, but said she couldn’t speak for them.

“It doesn’t sound inclusive, and I know that as a community we have worked very hard to demonstrate not only to other families and community members, but also to members of the surrounding community that Bristol-Warren is a inclusive and accepting environment. “

She said she would choose to keep her children at home that day, not only to celebrate the holidays, but to send a message.

“They are also frustrated because this is a crucial point… it sets the tone, as others have said today, for the school year. But they are in favor of staying at home, not only as a kind of demonstration of our values ​​as a family, as a community, but because it is a religious holiday and they are not seen.

ABC6 has contacted Bristol-Warren superintendent Dr Jonathan Brice and the school committee leader for comment, but has not received a response.

WLNE-TV 2021