August 7, 2014 at 6:28 AM
MILLBURN, NJ—Although it is summer, a traditionally slow time for many activities in the area, some residents of Millburn have been relatively quick to jump on the bandwagon by signing official petitions for school closings for religious observances.
The first part of a three-pronged process, approved by the board of education on June 23, to help determine whether schools will close for religious and cultural observances during the 2015-2016 school year, requires a petition containing the signatures of 500 adult residents of the township school district to be submitted in support of each holiday for which the petitioners seek a school closing day.
Once signatures on a petition are validated members of the school administration will prepare an online ballot available to school district families during the 2014-2015 school year to gather data for the 2015-2016 school year. Each family will have one vote for each of their children registered as a student in the district. If the results of the ballot indicate that absences during a school day are expected to exceed 15 percent of the student population the board will determine whether there is a need to close schools on that day.
The third part of the process says that, if school is not closed for a religious holiday, “absence from school on days of religious observance that are officially identified as excused absences by the State of New Jersey, will be treated as an excused absence with a signed request from a parent or individual standing in loco parentis,” according to a school district explanation of the process.
Also, according to school district spokeswoman Nancy Dries, should a petition drive not be successful, community members will have the option to petition the board again, for a day of personal observance school closure, in three years (2017).
Religious holidays currently observed in township schools also must be reconsidered under the new process for the 2015-2016 school year in order to continue as days when schools are closed.
Thus far, according to Dries, the only petitions school officials are aware of call for closing of schools on the two days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The school district already closes in observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
According to the school public relations spokeswoman, the leader for that petition drive is Jordana Horn and she may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dries also said petitions were expected to be circulated at the Congregation B’nai Israel barbeque on Thursday, August. 7.
Petition leaders for other days of personal observance may please contact Dries at email@example.com or 973-376-3600, extension 163 so she can post the names on the district’s website to help coordinate these efforts.
The new holiday observance process came about when, after a discussion about adjustments to the school calendar at the end of 2013, Indian residents asked the board to consider adjusting the calendar to allow for the closing of township public schools on Diwali, the Indian cultural and religious Fevtival of Lights.
Later, members of the township’s Chinese-American community also asked that the school body consider the Lunar New Year, a holiday widely celebrated in the Chinese community, as a day on which township public schools would be closed.
Following several months of discussion and debate, the school body voted 6-3 to adopt the new process, saying that the major driver behind the decision was a concern about student absenteeism possibly adversely affecting the education process.
Dries added, however, “as per current New Jersey state statute, code and case law, the final school calendar is the sole responsibility of the board of education. The process described above is for data gathering purposes and will be used to guide decision-making in construction of the school calendar. The board of education will also review student and teacher attendance data. The Millburn Board of Education will construct a three-year calendar using the information gathered from the ballot voting process.”