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School district overlooks Jewish holidays, students struggle

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Any Jewish student at any Atlanta Public School (APS) knows the struggle of missing school once or twice per year during the high holidays. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two major holidays that Jewish students miss school from, both requiring a visit to synagogue and a day of activities like visiting friends and family for dinner and prayer.

Although it’s only two days a year, these holidays tend to come right around the time of midterms. This is a crucial time for students as this is when most teachers tend to give tests or teach important content.

While private schools like Paideia and Woodward get these days off, Grady and the rest of APS has normally scheduled days. To many, this is an inconvenience that is not helped by the fact that most teachers don’t slow down or stop their instruction for those off for the holidays.

However, there is a reason, in the eyes of APS decision-makers, for the continuation of classes on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is because APS has a small Jewish population, and canceling school for a such a small amount of people would not be justified.

A simple solution to the problem would be for the schools to schedule one of their teacher work days on these holidays, instead of at their more random times later in the semester. Then, no one would miss any instructional time and the flow of normal school would continue.

Parents have mentioned this problem yearly without any real response that has helped create a solution. APS is also given the Jewish calendar every year prior to the start of school, yet prom almost always seems to fall right around or on Passover. Unfortunately, the likelihood of any real action being taken seems as low as ever.

With that, there are a few things the Jewish students can do to minimize the amount of make-up work and missed lessons they have to recover.

First, since they know they will be missing school one day, they can ask their teachers  for any classwork to take home or any Powerpoints to look at in advance, at least one class rotation before the holiday.

Second, they can take advantage of the one rotation of extra time to complete the make-up work. If they can get the work early, and complete a little when they get it, a little on the day of their absence, and the rest when the extension is given, then the work will go by smoothly and they will actually end up having nearly double the normal amount of time given.

Third, they can stay on top of the assignments planned for the future. If they receive the assignments of the day they will be absent, always remember to ask about any homework that will be assigned that day, and try to have it finished or close to it before the next class, they can stay caught up on work over the holidays.

Since religious freedom and equality is something APS likes to support, it seems a little ironic that the Jewish holidays are ignored when many private schools around the state choose to give students the day off on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. However, the future could always brighten, and there is no limit to what can be achieved when people put their minds to it. For now, Jewish students that know they will be absent for these holidays can take the advice given and they will be much less affected by the days missed.

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The arts, cultural and news magazine of Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, Georgia