- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur meant a day off yesterday for about 350,000 students in eight of Maryland’s 24 public school districts.

In observance of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, which began Sunday night and ended yesterday evening, schools were closed in Anne Arundel, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

D.C. and Northern Virginia public school officials held classes as usual, but allowed Jewish students to take the day off and make up the work.

The Maryland State Board of Education has no policy on Yom Kippur or any other Jewish holiday, said board spokesman Bill Reinhard. However, he said the board requires schools to close for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day, Presidents Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Memorial Day and primary and general elections.

Public schools in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties also recognize Yom Kippur and Passover.

“We know that there will be major absenteeism on major high holy days,” said Brian Porter, a Montgomery County public school spokesman, where Jewish holidays have meant a day off from school for decades. “So we think it’s proper and appropriate to recognize these holidays.”

The public school calendar for Anne Arundel County lists Yom Kippur as a holiday with schools and central offices closed. The calendar did not list other religious holidays but winter and spring vacations that cover Christmas and Easter.

Some Christian activists around the country have said Christian holidays are no longer revered.

“There is clearly an anti-Christian bias when it comes to giving equal opportunities to different faiths,” said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, a D.C.-based religious-activist group. He said Christian holidays are under fire in school districts throughout the United States.

Mr. Mahoney praised the Maryland districts that recognize Yom Kippur but said he was “deeply troubled that those of the Christian faith are treated as second-class citizens and stepchildren.”

In Frederick County, the public school calendar listed no religious holidays. Schools were closed yesterday but no reason was provided, and winter and spring breaks closed schools during Christmas and Easter.

David G. Lenhart, a Frederick city alderman who last year led the fight to keep a Ten Commandments monument in a city park and succeeded in making an opening prayer part of city council meetings, said he was concerned about secularism in the school systems.

“I think it reflects very poorly on peoples’ attitudes that they cannot embrace religions of all persuasions,” said Mr. Lenhart, a Republican. “We should be publicly advocating and publicly embracing the Christian and Jewish faiths — all the religious faiths in our society — rather than trying to secularize them and push them to the side.”

Prince George’s County Board of Education member Abby L.W. Crowley said yesterday that she and her colleagues should consider retooling the school calendar.

“It’s about striking a balance on how far do we go in trying to find ways of celebrating the various religious holidays, making sure we’re following the law and not excluding others,” Mrs. Crowley said. “I don’t think we need a holiday-free school calendar, but we do need to take a look at this issue.”

Phyllis Schlafly, founder and president of the conservative Missouri-based Eagle Forum, said she is not bothered that schools give students a day off for Yom Kippur. But she is bothered that schools don’t observe Christian holidays as they used to.

She said some school districts in the country have abandoned the Good Friday holiday, and that some schools pretend Christian holidays have nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

“It’s really a distortion of history,” she said. “We ought to know that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birthday and we also ought to know to whom we give thanks on Thanksgiving.”

Ellen Sorokin contributed to this report.

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