Update on Virginia Beach Public Schools’ Saturday classes

by | Feb 28, 2014 | Other News

Two weeks ago, we informed you that we were sending a letter to the Virginia Beach Public School Superintendent, Dr. Sheila S. Magula, and the chairman of the School Board, Mr. Daniel D. Edwards. Our letter was favorably received and our meeting request with Dr. Magula was accepted.

I am pleased to report that Robin Mancoll, Rabbi Israel Zoberman, and I had a very productive meeting with Dr. Magula and key members of her administration on Wednesday, Feb. 19. Dr. Magula began the meeting by informing us that when it came to setting snow make-up days, she was only permitted to choose from the five days (two Fridays and three Saturdays) previously decided and voted upon, and approved by the calendar committee and subsequently the Virginia Beach School Board for the 2013-2014 school year. All make up days were made public at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year online, in print, and anywhere else the school calendar is distributed. Because schools were closed five full days for inclement weather, all five designated days were needed. While we appreciated hearing that she did not unilaterally decide to impose on our First Amendment rights to religious freedom by issuing school days on Shabbat, we reiterated that using Saturdays remains insensitive and unjust. The executive director of School Administration, sitting at the table with us, immediately asked a member of our community to serve on the calendar committee. We were happy with the appointment, ensuring that a member of our Jewish community will be able to offer his/her voice to combat future occurrences imposing on our religious freedoms, and we thus responded that Brad Lerner, current CRC media co-chair, would serve in this important position.

In addition, we raised the inequity issue faced by Jewish teachers not being exempt from the three Saturdays if their three allowable excused days were used for the 2013 High Holidays. Dr. Magula stated that she would issue a letter to her human resource administrator to be distributed to all school administrators allowing the Saturdays to be excused absences for Jewish teachers as well as Jewish students.

Another issue raised was that of excused absences for both Jewish students and non-Jewish students attending B’nai Mitzvahs on those Saturdays. Prior to the meeting, Dr. Magula worked with Robin Mancoll collecting the names of those students affected by the first make-up Saturday, so that they would be excused. Dr. Magula assured us the students affected by the future two Saturdays would receive the same allowances.

The general consensus stated by both Dr. Magula and her administrators in the room was that the voice of the Jewish community members is both needed and very much appreciated. Dr. Magula specifically stated that with the Jewish community voice she benefits from “fresh eyes and fresh ideas.” The three of us left the meeting feeling that we started a constructive dialogue and formed relationships that will serve to benefit the Jewish community in the future.

Megan Zuckerman
Chair, Community Relations Council
United Jewish Federation of Tidewater