2 area colleges rework schedules for High Holy Days

Two South Bay community colleges will start classes on the second day of Rosh Hashanah this year. But Foothill and DeAnza colleges have promised that Jewish students will not be penalized for missing the first day of school.

"It remains the policy of this district to respect religious and cultural matters such as Rosh Hashanah," Leo E. Chavez, chancellor of the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District's governing board, wrote in a July 24 letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council.

"It is our official policy that there will be no negative consequences to those who [choose] to exercise their rights in this regard and if we learn of any negative consequences we will take steps to correct the matter."

The JCRC got involved in the scheduling matter after learning that the two campuses — Foothill is located in Los Altos Hills, DeAnza in Cupertino — planned to begin classes this year on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and in 1999, on Yom Kippur.

"These are the most significant holy days of the year which almost all Jews observe by attending synagogue, and in the case of Yom Kippur, fasting," the JCRC's Jackie Berman wrote in a letter to Paul Fong, president of Foothill-DeAnza Community College District's board.

"A policy that requires Jewish students and faculty to be absent either for the first day of classes or for their religious observance, penalizes them."

The JCRC initiated a letter-writing campaign, which appeared to work.

Berman, the JCRC's education specialist, was told by the president of DeAnza that classes would not begin on the Jewish holidays.

"We thought the problem was solved," Berman said.

But after prodding the district for something in writing, Berman learned that the first day of 1998 classes had in fact been moved to Sept. 22, the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

"I'm not sure if this was deliberate or just a real miscommunication," she said.

Regardless, "it's always a process of education," she added. "If I were giving it a grade, I'd say they got a C+. They didn't flunk."

Judith Moss, a board member for the college district, said she believes the letter-writing campaign helped secure the date change. "There is no question that community support was influential," she said.

Moss, who is Jewish, is satisfied with the outcome.

"The fact that we were able to arrange the whole school schedule for everybody makes it to me a very worthwhile resolution," she said. School calendars are set by the faculty union and administrative negotiators represented by the board.

The 1999 scheduling conflict, meanwhile, has been solved altogether. Classes that year will start after Yom Kippur.

As for this year, "the message to get out to students is they should not feel conflicted and they can come to us if there are any problems at all," Berman said. "I have every confidence there won't be any penalty."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.