In a final push, members of Farmington Public Schools’ South Asian and Jewish community are circulating a petition asking the Board of Education to vote “no” Monday on a second reading of the school calendar and reject the Nov. 14 decision to not provide a school holiday for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Diwali.
“We need to show the BOE that Farmington residents are compelling the 9-member Board of education to vote ‘no’ and reject their November 14th decision and return to creating a 2023/2024 school calendar that reflects the composition of the town,” the petition states.
A significant showing of students, parents and faith leaders is expected at the board’s next meeting, which will be held today, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Irving A. Robbins Middle School.
At the meeting, board members will likely hold a vote on a second reading of the 2023-2024 school calendar, which currently includes days off for Indigenous Peoples’/Italian American Heritage Day and Good Friday, but not Diwali, Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah.
Proponents of the holidays hope the board will double back on its original decision and restore the Jewish holidays, which have been on the calendar since 1999, and add a day off for Diwali, which Farmington’s South Asian students and parents have been requesting for roughly two years.
Other community members have spoken against the board’s decision, which they called non-inclusive and unfair in petition comments.
“I’m concerned for my child, our children and the understanding and respect our society will maintain or lose for the world outside of our tiny little circle known as Farmington. I find this decision to be isolating, ignorant and racist,” said one petition commenter.
“My children went through the Farmington school district from kindergarten through high school and had wonderful time learning about other religions which made them understand their friends faith and have an appreciation for others believes [sic],” another resident commented. “It is not right to remove the Jewish holidays that have been celebrated in this district for years and reject Diwali, as there should be recognition of the increasing families moving to Farmington.”
The Farmington school district is only legally obligated to provide a day off when a religious holiday impacts school operations, i.e. excessive staff or student absences for holiday observation. Under state law, districts have no jurisdiction over holidays that fall in January and December.
In a Nov. 29 email, the board said members determined Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Diwali “do not rise to the level of an operational disruption,” and thus did not approve a day off for their observance. Good Friday and Columbus Day were maintained.
Other justifications outlined in the Nov. 29 email included the need to front-load school days before June. They said that this approach increases instruction time before high-stakes assessments in grades 3-12, and prevents absences in June when non-airconditioned classrooms can grow hot and students go on vacation and summer camp.
In a Nov. 18 email to the school community, BOE Chair Liz Fitzsimmons said that the board based its school holiday vote on a decision-making criteria chart that used “measurable and verifiable data,” but acknowledged that “The district does not collect data regarding what religions or holiday traditions and observances are practiced by its students or faculty/staff members.”
Fitzsimmons could not be reached for comment.