Hopkinton School Board considering adding Eid al Fitr and Lunar New Year to holidays

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Lunar New Year and Eid al Fitr could become the last school holidays in Hopkinton, as the school committee weighs a proposed update to the school calendar.

The district surveyed families about vacations in 2018 amid growing and changing demographics, and it found less than 65% of its families were white, down from about 90% a decade ago. Based on the results of the survey, the school board is evaluating three proposals: keep the calendar as it is, add Lunar New Year and Eid al Fitr, or eliminate all days off for religious holidays.

Schools are currently taking off for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali and Good Friday, as well as all federal holidays, including Christmas.

The board debated the proposal at its meeting last week and plans to vote at its next meeting on February 3.

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh supports the proposal to add two additional holidays to the school calendar. She thinks disruption to the school year will be minimal as some public holidays will fall on weekends from year to year, and occasional extra days off will support students’ mental health.

Cavanaugh is also worried about students who might want to go on vacation but feel pressured to come to school so they don’t fall behind.

“Our kids sometimes say, ‘I would have loved to be home…but I didn’t make the time because of school stress and pressure,'” Cavanaugh said. “Sometimes they take it and even when they try to observe a religious or cultural event, it is stressful for them.”

Still, some school board members are concerned about learning disruptions and would rather see schools giving no days off for religious holidays, rather than adding days off.

“I think of all those children whose rhythms are continually disrupted by, say, the many holidays we have this autumn, especially children with disabilities or who have so-called special needs. So where are they in this equation? said Meg Tyler, a member of the school committee, at the board meeting last Thursday. “I understand that people have great religions and deep, meaningful spiritual lives, but we are a public educational institution.”

Proponents of the plan argued at the board meeting that eliminating all religious holidays would also disrupt education, as schools could end up having many teachers and students absent for major holidays.

Student representative Jessica Ianelli added that many students support the proposed schedule. “Inclusiveness is a value that is very strongly held within the student population,” she said at the meeting last week.

Hopkinton Teachers Association President Becky Abate sees the potential schedule changes as a first step toward inclusivity in a rapidly diverse district and a race-conscious nation.

“We can talk about inclusion, but if it doesn’t feel inclusive in schools, then that’s something that needs to be addressed,” she said. “I think there are maybe bigger issues that need to be addressed, which won’t necessarily be resolved by changing the schedule, but it’s certainly, I guess, a step in the right direction.”

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