The principal of Northern Valley Demarest High School told The Jewish Standard this week that he has asked Lubavitch on the Palisades in Tenafly to provide a Jewish calendar in order to prevent scheduling conflicts like this year’s back-to-school night, which had been scheduled for last night during Simchat Torah.
Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky, youth director of Lubavitch on the Palisades, brought to light the school’s scheduling error in a Sept. 18 letter to Principal Bruce Sabatini. The letter also addressed a school policy that students who miss school on Fridays may not participate in weekend sports. Boyarsky alleged that students who had missed school on Friday, Sept. 14, for Rosh HaShanah had not been permitted to take part in that weekend’s activities.
"They want to be involved and they weren’t allowed to be involved," Boyarsky told the Standard. "They wanted to keep their heritage alive, they wanted to pray, and they were punished."
Sabatini addressed the rabbi’s concerns in a letter sent Tuesday. According to the letter, a girls varsity tennis match scheduled for earlier in September had been rescheduled for Sept. 14. Sabatini explained to the Standard that Sept. 14 was the district deadline for the team to qualify for the state tournament. He said that one or two students had missed the match because of the holiday, but no students were restricted from participating in weekend sports because they missed school that Friday. Despite Sabatini’s assurance, Boyarsky maintained that the prohibition had been in place.
Team pictures had also been scheduled for that day, but all photos were rescheduled for Sept. ‘8. All student athletes showed up at that time, Sabatini said.
Regarding the scheduling of back-to-school night on Simchat Torah, Sabatini explained that the administration had not had calendars that listed all the holidays when they planned the ‘007-08 school year in May.
"I completely understand the reaction of Rabbi Boyarsky as well as any other people who felt that the school was insensitive," he said. "My explanation to Rabbi Boyarsky and to other families in our district was an explanation, not an excuse."
The administration typically meets in May to plan the upcoming school year. When it met, it used a calendar that listed the last day of Sukkot as Oct. 3 and did not include Shemini Atzeret or Simchat Torah. Toward the end of July the school received the state board of education’s list of religious holidays. That list had Oct. 4 at the last day of Sukkot.
In mid-September Sabatini received an e-mail from a parent who said that date was a holiday.
"That was my first realization that an error in sensitivity had been made," he said. He explained that the school had erred, but by that point he could not change the date.
"It’s just very upsetting to a lot of people who aren’t going to be able to make the parents’ night," said Phil Gothelf of Closter, whose 16-year-old daughter is a junior in the school. "The only solution for this year, frankly, is to provide parents with an alternative."
And that is what the school has sought to do. A second back-to-school night will be held on a yet-to-be determined date for all parents who were unable to make it on Oct. 4.
"An apology for insensitivity would mean nothing were it not backed up by some kind of corrective action plan," Sabatini said.
In the first step to prevent this situation from recurring, Sabatini has asked Boyarsky to provide the school with a complete Jewish calendar. Boyarsky told the Standard on Wednesday that he would happily send calendars to all area public schools. When the administration meets in May, it will have all the appropriate calendars, Sabatini said. In order to set up a series of checks, the scheduling committee will meet again in June to review the calendar. Finally, when the school receives the state’s list of holidays in late July, the administration will make certain there are no conflicting dates. The director of athletics will be involved in the review, as well.