On October 5, Michigan superintendents will count the number of students enrolled, although many students will be absent because of a significant Jewish holiday.
This year, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, falls on this critical day for Michigan school districts attempting to maximize state money. Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, prayer, and abstinence from work and school for devout Jews.
According to state law, a significant portion of the student enrollment in Michigan’s public schools is determined by attendance on the first Wednesday of October. At least $9,150 per kid, the base cash allocated in the state school aid budget, is on the line.
On Yom Kippur, areas with sizable Jewish populations, such as West Bloomfield and Walled Lake, close. The Michigan Department of Education has approved five waiver requests from those districts, allowing them to use Thursday, October 6, as their count day in accordance with state law.
However, it is more difficult for schools that are in session but have Yom Kippur-observant students.
If a student’s absences are forgiven, they return to school within 30 days, and they attend all scheduled classes, those districts may count the student as being absent. Religious observances are excused from attendance.
According to Jeanice Swift, the superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, which will be in session on Yom Kippur, that is helpful but unjust.
She requests the same latitude as districts not in session, which would allow count day to be moved to a day that is not a religious holiday.
Swift noted that holding a high-stakes school day on a religious holiday goes against her district’s core goal of honoring all religions.
The district gathered a committee of community religious leaders more than ten years ago to construct a calendar of religious holidays and to rank the observances according to importance. Yom Kippur was classified as a three-star festival, the highest level. On days with a three-star rating, the district forbids major exams, reviews for major exams, standardized testing, sports and art tryouts, and large events like proms. Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, Epiphany, Passover, Holy Friday, Palm Sunday, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha are additional three-star holidays.
Guerrant acknowledged understanding the justification, but noted that districts that hold regular classes on holidays cannot request waivers under state law.
Although legislation has not yet been introduced, Swift claimed that she has spoken with lawmakers about changing the law.
For the time being, Guerrant said, MDE would work with districts to make sure every student is counted.