An error in scheduling that starts the next Santa Monica-Malibu school year on one of the holiest days of the Jewish calender outraged at least one Jewish leader who debated the decision with school board officials at a meeting this week.
The school board scheduled teachers to return from summer vacation Sept. 12 and students to return the next day. But the two days are also Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Rabbi Jeffrey A. Perry-Marx of the Santa Monica Synagogue on Lincoln Boulevard called the decision "outrageous and disappointing." He accused the board of being insensitive by forcing parents to make a choice between attending religious services and sending their children to school.
"If the Jewish community was new to the Westside, I could probably understand the scheduling confusion," he said. "However, the Jewish community (is not new). We have Jewish teachers, PTA presidents, principals and board members. Therefore, I find it dismaying to have to ask (the board) to reconsider its decision."
Perry-Marx asked the board to change the school calendar to allow students and teachers to have the holiday off. "Rosh Hashanah is a holiday in which the entire Jewish community comes together," he said.
School Supt. Eugene Tucker said the holiday was overlooked when it came to setting the schedule, which had been approved in negotiations with employee unions.
"An apology is due to the members of the Jewish community," said Tucker, who is Jewish. "It was certainly not our intention (to be insensitive), but the error slipped by many sharp and prying eyes."
School board member Patricia Hoffman said: "Those of us who should have been aware simply missed it. Religious holidays are very important, but I also feel that the school calendar is set up in a way to be sensitive to all the needs of the population. It can't be rearranged around the religious observances of each group."
Member Dan Ross agreed that the board must be sensitive, but said: "We are a public body, and we are not supposed to be in the business of accommodating religious groups."
School officials said they were reluctant to delay the opening of classes because it would push the end of the 180-day school year into the summer. They said the district would lose $17 a day per student in state revenue if the days were cut out. Also, any change would have to be reviewed by the unions.
But the board and representatives of the unions came up with a compromise Monday night. Tucker said students will have to report to school Sept. 13, but teachers will return Sept. 9. The teachers will then take Sept. 12 off as Admissions Day, which commemorates California's admission into the Union.
Perry-Marx said that he was disappointed with the decision but that the "compromise was the best that could be worked out under the circumstances."
The Los Angeles Unified School District has scheduled the first day of school for Sept. 15. In Beverly Hills, the first day of school will be Sept. 7. The Culver City school district has not decided when its first day will be.