The School Committee approved the 2017-18 school calendar for the Watertown Public Schools, and it includes some changes from past years, including that school will be in session on Good Friday.
Whether to have school on one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar was debated by school administrators because having that day off would push back the last day of class into the last week of June and because there are no other days off for religious holidays for any religion, said Interim Superintendent John Brackett.
“I am cognizant of traditions and traditionally Good Friday has not been a school day, and that Good Friday, for many families remains a very important day within their religion,” Brackett said.
He added, however, that the Watertown Schools celebrate the diversity of all students in the schools. He pointed to the recent statement released by the schools after President Trump signed the Executive Order banning travel into the U.S. by people of several countries.
The statement read, in part: “We treat all students with respect, have high expectations for all, want parents to be our partners, and expect students, educators, and parents to respect the unique qualities that characterize each of us. Together, we build and support a diverse and respectful community.”
Good Friday in 2018 will be on March 30, but for Eastern Orthodox churches, including Greek and most Armenian churches, it will be on April 6.
Watertown Schools do not start before Labor Day, and under state law public schools must have 180 days of school. Districts build in an extra five school days to account for snow days. The last possible day for school is called the 185th day, and in 2017-18, the 185th day would be pushed back to Monday, June 25 if schools closed on Good Friday, Brackett said. By having school that day, the 185th day would be Friday, June 22.
School officials also looked at having an early release day on Good Friday, Brackett said, but did not like that option because the last day would still be on June 25 and not as much learning can occur on a half day.
The only school district in the area that takes off Good Friday is Belmont, which will do so for the first time this year, Brackett said, and Winchester will begin having school that day in 2018.
Brackett said he sent emails to all parents in the Watertown Public Schools and spoke with some teachers and staff. In an informal survey, just over half of people said they supported having school on March 30, 2018 – Good Friday – while more than 40 percent opposed it.
Brackett told the School Committee that any student, teacher or staff member could take Good Friday off as an excused absence and teachers contract. School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer said the teachers contract allows for up to two days off for religious reasons, and they would not count against the person’s vacation time.
Town Council President and School Committee member Mark Sideris supported having school on Good Friday.
“We are an all inclusive system,” Sideris said. “If anybody feels their child shouldn’t have to go to school for religious reason, we respect that.”
Hsu-Balzer said her children were brought up Jewish and they attended the Watertown schools.
“They were not in school for Jewish holidays, and there was no problem with that,” Hsu-Balzer said.
School Committee member Guido Guidotti said that school officials would not be looking at having school on other major Christian holidays.
“We are hypocritical talking about Good Friday and not Christmas Day,” Guidotti said. “Everyone agrees that trying to open schools on Christmas Day would be ridiculous. We need to be more honest.”
School Committee Chairman John Portz said he worries about how learning will be impacted, but said he believes Christmas is a different situation.
“I am concerned the day becomes non-functional if a lot of teachers and a lot of students take the day off – half the students and half the teachers or less,” Portz said. “Christmas is incapsulated into winter break.”
The School Committee voted unanimously for the calendar that included classes on Good Friday. There were no abstentions or present votes. School Committee member Candace Miller was absent from the meeting due to a work conflict.