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Farmington school board reverses controversial decision to remove Jewish holidays from calendar

Farmington student Dhanya Gopi Arora, speaks out at The Farmington Board of Education meeting on how she wished the board would recognize all holidays and not just a select group of them. The Farmington Board of Education held a meeting at Irving A. Robbins Middle School, Farmington, CT. Board members held 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.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
Farmington student Dhanya Gopi Arora speaks out at the Farmington Board of Education meeting on how she wished the board would recognize all holidays and not just a select group of them.

The Farmington Board of Education on Monday reversed a controversial decision to have schools operate on two Jewish holidays.

Several people blasted the board for initially taking Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off the calendar and for not adding Diwali as a school holiday. Residents said that the board was not being inclusive and that leaving the holidays off the calendar doesn’t reflect Farmington’s values.

An online petition on change.org protesting the board’s original decision made last month had gathered over 1,300 digital signatures before the meeting.

Some school board members cited educational factors for removing holidays from the calendar, pointing to learning loss during the pandemic and saying that it was important to have fewer interruptions during the school year.

School board Chair Liz Fitzsimmons began the meeting by reading a letter distributed to families in response to concerns about the holiday removal. She said the decision to take the holidays off the calendar was based on the best interests of the Farmington school community, “and it was not discriminatory or anti-Semitic in any way.”

“We have listened and we will continue to listen when it comes to the multiple perspectives we have received related to decisions on Farmington's school calendar,” Fitzsimmons said.

A policy committee plans to meet in January and consider adding other days, such as Diwali.

Residents were pleased that the board reversed its decision.

“I hope that we can build a calendar that honors our entire community, rather than only centralizing a single group,” Emily Bryk said. “I hope that our students can delight in their own cultures and can delight in their classmates’ cultures, and I hope we can all make each other better.”

Community leaders also applauded the board’s reversal.

“As our communities become increasingly diverse, it’s more important than ever to embrace that growing diversity by enshrining values of respect and inclusion in our schools’ policies and practices,” David Waren, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, told the Hartford Courant.

Some school districts across Connecticut have added Diwali as a school holiday in recent years.

State law gives a lot of authority to local school districts to set their calendars.

“The state says that on specified state holidays, schools shall be closed,” Patrice McCarthy, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, told Connecticut Public.

But the only specified legal holidays that mandate school closure are those in December and January. Otherwise, local officials get to decide how to build their calendars.

“The state requirement is that there be 180 days of school session, and it’s up to each local district to determine what their school calendar will look like,” McCarthy said.

Connecticut Public's Eric Aasen, Jeff Cohen and Matthew Long-Middleton contributed to this report.

Correction: The last name of a speaker was incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this story. It is Bryk, not Bright.

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