Religious Holidays a Hot Issue with Millburn Board of Education

May 14, 2014 at 6:39 AM

MILLBURN, NJ – At the Board of Education meeting on Monday evening, board member Emily Jaffe said she was saddened when residents, speaking about the controversy surrounding school closings for religious holidays, hinted that legal options should be taken into consideration when the board made a decision on the issue. She also was unhappy about remarks inferring there was a “pecking order” among religions in the township when decisions were being made.

Jaffe added that poor attendance on Jewish holidays more than 20 years ago was given as the reason for the decision to close the schools on those days.

After speaking with board member Rupali Wadhwa, who had suggested that Millburn schools be closed for the Hindu Diwali holiday, Jaffe said she had more appreciation of the viewpoints of other cultures concerning holiday closings. She also said many community groups should come together for a “meeting of the minds” on the issue.

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Board member Raymond Wong, however, said it was time for the board to vote on the issue, which it has been discussing since last November. In fairness to all, he added, the solution might be either to do away with all closings for religious and cultural holidays or allow closings for all holidays that currently were proposed.

Although Wadhwa somewhat agreed with Wong’s suggestions, she also said the board should consider how the demographics of the township had changed over the years and that Hinduism was the third most popular religion in the world.

Program committee chairwoman Regina Truitt said the “broke her heart” to see one segment of the community pitted against another. She thanked her fellow board members for their patience, and announced her committee would hold another ad hoc meeting on Wednesday, May 14 to further discuss the issue.

On a related matter, Wadhwa objected to an answer board president Jeffrey Waters gave on the school district website asking why she had not been selected for the program committee.

Wadhwa implied that Waters was referring to her when he said, in the answer, that board members were not selected for committee based on their standings on certain issues.

Waters replied the answer was not directed at any particular board member but only was meant to deal with strong suggestions about a number of board members in the past that they wanted to be placed on certain committees. 

On another matter, following discussions at recent student liaison committee meetings, a number of board members and members of the public said parents should do more about limiting student activities to reduce stress.

Board member Chase Harrison, a Millburn High School student, said the number of standardized tests should be reduced and Millburn should perhaps do away with its requirement for advanced placement qualifications testing. He said few districts still use the tests to selected advanced placement students.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board also congratulated Amanda Prager on being selected as a Presidential Scholar.

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