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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

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I am grateful to Rabbi Alter (“School Calendar Wars,” January 4, 2018) for sharing his thoughts about the yeshiva day school calendar. I nevertheless have to question some of his facts, question his math, question the questions he is asking and question his frame of reference.

First, on the facts, Rabbi Alter writes that holding classes during Chol Hamoed Sukkot would be pointless, because must students won’t be there, and teacher and student morale would therefore be low. That this is not the case, however, can be seen because there are several area schools that do hold classes then, including SAR and BPY. While there may be a few more kids absent than usual, the overwhelming majority of kids attend and benefit, without low morale. I invite Rabbi Alter to come visit next Sukkot since he will have the day off, and my son can show him around.

Second, on the math, Rabbi Alter compared the mandated 180 public school days to the 171-175 scheduled by yeshiva day schools. This math is apples and oranges, however. The public school number is after snow days, the yeshiva number is before snow days. In some recent years, snow has knocked another three to five days off the already shorter year. Further, the public school number is generally for full days; for the yeshivas, there is an entire year of short Fridays. This takes off about 1/4 to 1/3 of the day away for about 35 weeks, so that is approximately another nine days off of our kids’ education. This brings us down to 156-161 days. In other words, this leaves yeshiva students with at least four weeks less of instruction than the legal minimum for public schools. On top of that, most of the yeshiva day schools and high schools have adopted the camp tradition of color war for two to five days. While undoubtedly fun, it further cuts down on instruction and education time. All of this combines to put great stress and pressure on teachers and students to properly cover the material in the shorter time.

Third, Rabbi Alter addresses questions about particular days off added in the yeshiva calendar, each of which one can make a case for. But I question why he does not address the broader question of whether, if one is adding Jewish holidays, one should be taking some days away from the secular holiday calendar. One could question whether school cannot begin before Labor Day, and whether Election Day should preclude classes. Not to mention if winter break needs to be a week and a half.

Lastly, I question the opening perspective that it’s the mandated local public school minimums to which we should be comparing. Perhaps when Rabbi Alter went to school that was appropriate. These days, we know our kids will be competing, in college and work, against kids from all around the world, most of whose school systems leave the US public school behind in the dust, and almost all of whom have a lot more than 180 days. Even locally, many of the high-performing charter schools recognize this and have added many more days beyond the minimum 180 (e.g., KIPP, Success Academy). Catholic schools that have Catholic holidays off, these days still generally manage to make it to 180 days. I wonder what it will take for yeshivas to realize the world has changed, and stop planning like it’s still 1995?

Dan Barenholtz

Teaneck