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Open Letter to Educators on Upcoming Jewish Holidays+

  • August 31, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly make the beginning of the 2020-21 school year a challenging time.  Schools are focused on ensuring the health of students and teachers, as well as addressing the challenge of distance or in-person learning.  In light of these circumstances, we write to remind you that the beginning of the school year also is a time when many major Jewish holidays occur.

Whether Jewish students or teachers are going to school virtually, in-person or in a combination of both, they may be unable to attend classes or other school events due to religious observance.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are some of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar and observances require day-long worship and abstinence from all work.

For your reference, here are the calendar dates for the 2020 Jewish High Holy Days:
Rosh Hashanah:  Begins on Friday, September 18th at sundown and ends at sundown on Sunday, September 20thYom Kippur:  Begins on Sunday, September 27th at sundown and ends at sundown on Monday, September 28th.

Many will be out of school or unable to attend school-sponsored events on those days of religious observance.  We hope you will allow students to be absent, without penalty, on those days. We also encourage reasonable efforts to accommodate employees who wish to observe the holidays. School administrators can build an atmosphere of mutual respect by accommodating students and employees for religious practices.  Certain state laws require such accommodations for students or public employees.  Information about these legal obligations can be found in the ADL publication entitled, School & Workplace Accommodations for the Jewish High Holidays.

The increasingly pluralistic population of the US creates rich and diverse communities, student bodies and workplaces. To enhance mutual understanding and respect we publish the Calendar of Observances. It covers many faiths, including a full list of the other Jewish holidays occurring during the school year many of which also require abstinence from all work. The calendar can be helpful in increasing awareness and sensitivity about religious obligations, as well as ethnic and cultural festivities.

We also write with regard to “See You at the Pole™” (SYATP) prayer activities, which may occur in your school community on campus or virtually on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.  Provided that SYATP truly remains student-initiated and led, ADL does not view it as unconstitutional. To prevent any constitutional violations, schools must ensure that there is no actual or perceived endorsement by administrators, teachers or other officials of SYATP.  For events occurring on campus, school-sponsored virtual platforms, or other virtual platforms during school hours this means school personnel may be present to monitor the event for compliance with school rules, but they cannot promote the event or participate.  Schools must ensure that students who are not inclined to participate in the event are not pressured or coerced by fellow students to participate.

ADL publishes guides on issues related to religion in public schools.  You may find helpful Religion in the Public Schools.  We make this publication and other materials available on our website – ADL also offers diversity, anti-bias and anti-bullying training through its A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute.  These programs are designed to help administrators, educators and students address issues of prejudice and discrimination, and to foster respect for differences.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for further guidance on any of these issues.

We hope your school has a safe, productive and successful year.