Monday, September 24, 2007

Rosh Hashanah is not only ONE day

Last Thursday LO hands me her interim report from school. I looked at the grades and there were no surprises there. But then I noticed that she had an unexcused absence on it. Certainly she hadn't been absent without me knowing, so I sent a note to the teacher asking for an explanation of when exactly LO got this unexcused absence.

On Friday I went to pick LO up early from school so that we could prepare for dinner followed by Kol Nidre. I ran into her teacher and she explained that LO had received an unexcused absence because she was absent on Friday, September 14th. Apparently it didn't matter that I had sent a note in with LO to explain her absence due to the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The teacher went on to explain that she had discussed it with the secretary in the front office and that Rosh Hashanah is only observed for ONE day. (I should probably point out that neither of them are Jewish, so it is probably safe to assume that neither of them are qualified to make this statement.) I hate to admit it but as those words came out of her mouth, I was so angry that my blood started to boil. But I kept my cool as I explained that the holiday was indeed observed on both days. She told me that I needed to take it up with the front office. I took LO by the hand and stormed up to the front office. Turns out that the secretary was at lunch. But...the assistant principal was there so I decided to address it with her. This time I was told that it is a Miami-Dade County school policy that Rosh Hashanah is only observed for one day. (I can't begin to explain how much angrier that statement made me.) I decided that I better drop it at this point before I blew up so I told her that I thought she might want to re-check that policy and I left.

On the way home I could picture it in my head..."the Orieyentas take on the Miami-Dade School Board in a quest for the right to observe Rosh Hashanah for TWO days." And then I started to worry. What will happen with Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah? Will a whole load of unexcused absences ruin her almost perfect grades? And how come this wasn't an issue last year? And oy, why didn't I send her to Jewish Day School this year?

I got home and really needed to focus on getting dinner ready and getting into the Yom Kippur frame of mind and decided that there was not much more I could do about this until after the weekend. Thankfully, motzei Shabbos/Yom Tov when we checked the answering machine there was a message from the school secretary admitting that she was incorrect saying that there was only ONE day of Rosh Hashanah and that there are indeed TWO days of Rosh Hashanah. LO's unexcused absence has been changed to excused. Hopefully we won't have this problem for the upcoming chags. Oh the joys of sending your child to a secular/public school.

ed. note: I thought I should point out that in making the choice to send LO to a secular school, I certainly realize things like this are bound to happen sometimes. I'm relatively ok with that. What I was truly mad about was being told by TWO gentiles that Rosh Hashanah is only one day.


Jack's Shack said...

I had this discussion with a few of my college professors. It is more than a little irritating.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in NY where it was no big deal since the schools close for Rosh Hashonah, both days.

However, now that I live in Atlanta, you have to explain, what how many, etc. Frankly, its a hassle but worth it for DD to attend services both days and know that we are who we are.

Anonymous said...

Try bringing in a copy of a printed, Jewish calendar. It makes the conversation less personal and the school will have advance notice of all upcoming holidays,and their duration.

Val said...

Good for you for keeping your cool. There was that year that the welcome back to school evening picnic was scheduled for Rosh Hashana (eve)... they back pedalled REALLY fast on that one and changed the date ASAP.

Shana Tova!

Annie said...

It might just be school policy. I had several "unexcused absences" due to Jewish holidays in High School, it might not be the school's fault, but instead county policy.

There isn't necessarily a space for "religious observances" in the absence policy, so administrators just put it as an unexcused absence. I'd just appeal to a higher authority.

Jessica said...

Wow. I am not surprised at their lack of knowledge (I mean, hey, I'm a native midwesterner), but the fact that they had the nerve to tell you how many days they thought Rosh Hashanah should be observed is just unfreaking believable. My blood would have boiled too.

I guess it might be worth sending in a Jewish holiday calendar but I thouht parents had the authority to keep kids home regardless of the reason and that made it "excused." But again it has been years since I've been in school.

I am in total awe that you were able to not totally flip out.

Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

You might even want to be proactive and go with a Jewish calendar ahead of time to show them which and how many days are holidays. Of course this won't help if they're jerks, which happened to me when I was a kid in an unnamed southern (but not very) state.
Lotsa luck....

Anonymous said...

I am a public school teacher (Jewish) in Dallas. Our policy is absenses are excused based on a parent's note. Therefore, it does not matter to us how many days a holiday is observed. We're agnostic. If the parent writes a note, the absence is excused. There is, of course, a limit a kid can be absent without consequences, but I'm sure you guys are not out that much.

Another meshugannah mommy said...

Kudos to you for keeping it under control. I would have completely lost it. I used to live in a very non-Jewish area where my son was the only Jewish kid in preschool - issues came up ALL the time. If this can happen to you in South Florida...oy!

I love the idea of bringing in the calendar - it is a completely non-abrasive way of getting the point across.

Anonymous said...

Wanna bet you go in with a calendar as others have suggested and they come to the conclusion that LO will not be in school for the duration of Chanukah?

Juggling Frogs said...


Go Orieyenta, go!

Even if they decide only to allow one official school calendar day for Rosh Hashanah, the arrogance of telling you how many days it is, is startling!

If someone said, I celebrate 12 days of Christmas and need to take off for two weeks, would they say, "No. There is only one day of Christmas."?

I think it unlikely. Instead, they would say, "Well, you may celebrate 12 days, but the school policy is to recognize only one."

I agree with the anonymous public school teacher who commented above, that (within reason) a parent's note should make any absence an excused one.

The ideal would be for notes to be accepted without reason. I'd like to be able to keep my reasons private, be they medical, family issues, religious, etc.

Since it is a public school, notes sent from home technically become part of the government's files. Why should the government have a record of an individual's religious observances, or types of medical appointments?

In a day school, it's different, of course. We have no problems with the Jewish calendar, but also no expectation of privacy. The teachers know specific family minhagim, who are visiting Israelis - and thus celebrate only one day, etc. They know who eats rice for Passover, what everyone serves for shabbat dinner, where every family davens, etc.

We answer very personal questions in the application process, that apply to multiple generations of our family. The school keeps the names and addresses of the children's grandparents updated in its database. (They invite them to Grandparents day, and send them occasional other mail.)

In a recent math homework assignment, one of my children was given a chart, and asked to count the number of rooms in our home, the number of shoes per family member, number of books in each room, the number of bookcases, how many bathrooms, the number of towels, then number of beds in the house, the number of pillows we own, and about a dozen other items.

They then did some statistics and graphed this data, both individually, and in the aggregate for the class. I was surprised at such an intrusive and potentially embarrassing assignment. Who need to publicize (or even needs to be made aware of) how the number of pillows in their house measures up to the class average?

I can't imagine this homework being assigned in public school, unless that public school were in the former Soviet Union!

In any case, I'm proud of you that you stood up, and did so without losing your cool. Please keep us posted about what happens.

The Babka Nosher said...

I wish I had taken my blood pressure while reading your post (before the added info at the end). My blood was boiling, too! I'm impressed that you didn't lose it. I doubt I would have left the building without resolution. I would have received the same resolution as you... but would have made sure that others were feeling my pain in the mean time!

Anonymous said...

Re: the calendar idea: When you send in the note for LO's upcoming absence for Sukkot, attach a photocopy of the calendar with it! Then the supportive document is right there. Do this each time she is absent for a Yom Tov. Get the calendar with the little candlesticks icon, and highlight the pertinent days.
JF hits the point above -- it is not their place to tell you for how many days a holiday about which they know nothing is observed; they can only speak to what school policy is. I could see them saying that THEY personally though the holiday was only one day, but to INSTRUCT you? Ridiculous.
Could excused/unexcused not have to do with being excused meaning with the parent's permission, but rather countable in some sort of limit for how often a child can be absent without risking academic trouble? Religious reasons, deaths (God forbid), or long-term health crises shouldn't count, but maybe they keep an eye on how many "personal days" a parent allows the child to be absent. Maybe it has to do with considerations on holding back students, or maybe it even has to do with how they do their bookkeeping for state funding.

Shelli said...

I'm SO grateful that we now live in NYC.

However, I grew up in Portland, oregon, and after leaving Yeshivah Dayschool, and going to Public school, oy! I'm just grateful that I was accepted to colleges based on my talents, and not my grades...