On Friday, Sept. 5, Rachel Niedzwiecki’s daughters will miss the first day at Newton High School in Sussex County. They’ll be in synagogue for Rosh Hashana instead.
Despite efforts to have the school year’s start date changed, the administration has stood firm. Niedzwiecki is disappointed, and a bit outraged.
“It’s just mind-boggling, and it puts my children at a disadvantage,” she told NJJN. “When they go in on Monday, they won’t know which end is up. All the other kids will be acclimated, and Monday starts the hard-core learning.”
The day will officially be considered an “excused absence,” as it has for many years. But because it’s the first day of school, Niedzwiecki worries the twins will face difficulties in terms of getting information, settling in, and obtaining school supplies.
Other families throughout the state are facing similar dilemmas, with Rosh Hashana falling on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 5-6, the same week as Labor Day, the traditional end of summer and start of the school year.
In Piscataway, for example, school will begin on Sept. 4 and remain open on Rosh Hashana, despite objections from Jewish parents, teachers, and clergy. In Teaneck and Livingston, two districts with sizable Jewish populations, however, the first day of school will be Monday, Sept. 9.
In Sussex County — whose Jewish population is about 1 percent — every school with the exception of Sparta High School will open on Sept. 5.
Niedzwiecki, a past president of Temple Shalom of Sussex County in Franklin, continues to run the synagogue’s small religious school. She said she contacted the Andover Regional School District board and superintendent Vicki Pede, requesting that the opening of school be moved to Sept. 9. In addition to communicating via e-mail, Niedzwiecki also spoke directly with Pede by telephone. Her attempts to have the opening day changed were unsuccessful.
In an e-mail to NJJN, Pede wrote, “I did bring this to the board twice. The school calendar is staying as it was originally approved.” She added that “any students who make it known to the school that they will not be present for the first day of school will be afforded the opportunity prior to that day on either September 3rd or 4th to meet with their teachers so that they will be comfortable with the classroom specifics.”
Other members of Temple Shalom, along with Rabbi Josh Cantor, contacted local schools and politicians, but no schools agreed to move the starting date, with the exception of Sparta, which will open on Sept. 9.
Taking Pede up on her offer, Niedzwiecki’s daughters will meet with teachers during a scheduled in-service training day on Wednesday, Sept. 4, for a customized orientation.
Still, their mother remains frustrated. “I shouldn’t have to scream and shout about this every year,” she said. “If I have to take a day off from work for this, fine. But it’s still unfair to have to do this. My kids are getting singled out and they should not be. If one school can change the start date, why can’t other schools do the same?
“I say kudos to the Sparta schools.”