Although a number of locals don’t agree with giving employees and students specific religious holidays off, the Chesterfield school board last week approved a new calendar for the 2020-2021 school year incorporating some new ones.
The 2020-2021 calendar adds Yom Kippur, Sept. 28, Good Friday, April 2, 2021, and Eid al Fatr (end of Ramadan), May 13, 2021. These are Jewish, Christian and Muslim holidays. May 13, 2021 is also marked as Ascension Day by some Christian communities, although it is not clear that the school district recognized it as such.
During public comment at the Feb. 11 meeting, Rebecca Young said she supports more cultural tolerance and religious respect. “I’m Jewish,” she said. “It seems like a good starting point for you to do the right thing for our kids.”
Justin Smith spoke against the proposed calendar, calling it “well-intentioned but short-sighted.” He said it will open up the school district to expensive lawsuits and added that the issue of religious holidays in schools has already been addressed by a federal court. “Respect for one religion amounts to disrespect for another,” he said, citing the decision in an Illinois case.
“You can’t promote one religion against another,” he said. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter all have secular rituals, he said, but added that Good Friday and Yom Kippur do not.
He wondered what the school board would do when Buddhists, Sikhs or satanists ask for holidays, for example.
Taking a different tack, Ron Hayes complained about the school district’s 12-month employees (not teachers) getting three more paid holidays, which would now total 23, in addition to 15 paid vacation days and one personal day. “Federal government employees don’t get anywhere near [that many],” he said, adding that Chesterfield County employees only get 11 paid holidays.
“How is this fair, equitable and responsible?” he asked.
Meg Clark, who said she is a parent and Jewish, agreed with the proposed calendar.
She spoke of what she saw as vitriol that she read on social media about the proposal. She didn’t understand why some called it “un-American” or were upset that some holidays were referred to by name when some Christian holidays weren’t.
She applauded the board for having the courage to proceed.
The school district received over 500 community responses on the subject, according to a board document.
“We’re received hundreds of emails,” Midlothian school board member Kathryn Haines said. She cited one from Eric Lynn of the Dale District, who said he has three children in the district but is “highly concerned.” Haines related that Lynn said, “We need to think as a global citizen, not a national one.”
Haines was the only school board member to comment on the proposed calendar prior to the vote, which was unanimous.
School board chair Debbie Bailey did not return phone calls for this story, and school district spokesmen Shawn Smith and Tim Bullis did not respond to emails by deadline.
New COO coming
During public comment, Matoaca resident Brenda Stewart congratulated superintendent Merv Daugherty for recruiting Charles Davis to be the new chief operations officer.
Davis will start March 2 and replace Nita Mensia-Joseph, whose last day was Feb. 7. Mensia-Joseph, who was often criticized by several community residents, left to be the chief administrative officer for the state Department of Taxation, according to reports.
Davis most recently has been the director of pupil transportation at Henrico Public Schools. Prior to that, he was chief operations officer and director of transportation at Albemarle Public Schools and special assistant to a commanding general in the U.S. Army.