ST PAUL, Minn. — Abdullahi Soyan has the important job of translating after-school cancelations to Somali Saint Paul families.
He grew up in the district, his kids go to these schools, too. Now, for the first time in his family’s history, they won’t have to choose whether to send their kids to school or celebrate the Eid Holidays.
Saint Paul Public Schools is updating district calendars for the next two school years to include observances for several Jewish and Islamic holidays.
“It’s time to celebrate, share gifts, eat food and share with the community,” said Soyan. “That was actually joyous to hear that the board has added that to the calendar.”
The SPPS Board of Education approved calendars for the upcoming 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years, which will see schools closed for students on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Eid al-Fitr.
Rosh Hashanah, the first of the High Holidays celebrated by Jewish people, begins the night of Friday, Sept. 15 and ends at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 17 in 2023. Because the holiday doesn't occur on school days, it's not included on the school calendar.
Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, begins at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 24 and ends at sundown on Monday, Sept. 25. Students will have off that Monday and teachers will have a professional development day.
Next year, Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Muslims' month-long fast of Ramadan, falls during the district's spring break on April 10, 2024.
“All students deserve to have their religious beliefs and holidays respected by educators,” CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein said in a statement Wednesday. “We thank the St. Paul school district for recognizing the religious holidays of their students.”
Students will have off on Thursday, Oct. 4 for Rosh Hashanah, and teachers will have a professional development day.
Yom Kippur falls on a weekend, sundown on Friday, Oct. 11 thru Oct. 12, and is not included on the school calendar.
On Monday, March 31, there will be no school in observance of Eid al-Fitr.
“We feel really comfortable that this is a good place for us to start with expanding our religious observations on our school calendars,” said SPPS Superintendent Joe Gothard.
“I think for the entire Muslim population, anytime we see inclusion, we welcome that and celebrate,” said Hussein.
The days are some of the most important for Muslims, and the two Jewish holidays are the most observed for them.
“It's always a conflict for my kids about having to come to synagogue on their holy days versus missing school,” said Dani Salus, who goes to Mount Zion Temple.
“They've chosen to come to synagogue and miss the first day of school, but it's always a hard choice for them,” she said. “My daughter and one or two of her friends wrote a letter to the school district the year that the first day of school was on Rosh HaShanah. They felt very strongly that schools should not be held that day, and that these holidays should be honored by the district.”
She says it means a lot to her and the community here.
“Mount Zion was founded in 1856,” said Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker, the lead rabbi. “So that means for 166 years, Jewish families have had to choose between their Jewish observance and sending their kids to school.”
“In the news, we are seeing rising antisemitism, Islamophobia,” he said. “And this is also true. It's a message about the health of our community that in a multicultural multifaith space, people are honoring each other. And that gives me light and joy.”
The SPPS Board of Education also approved two weeks off at winter break, one week off for spring break, eliminated interruptions in the first three weeks and last three weeks of school when possible, and allowed using e-learning days for inclement weather when appropriate.
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