By Seth Daniel
The Revere Public Schools will be taking Good Friday, April 14, off after all – just don’t say it’s for Good Friday.
After a contentious School Committee meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 18, Revere Supt. Dianne Kelly announced via letter late last week that the school district would, in fact be taking April 14 off – but instead of being for a religious holiday – the day off is seen as a professional day instituted for public safety reasons.
“The added complication here is there were about 150 teachers throughout the district that were going to be taking the day off,” said Kelly this week. “In some schools it was more than half the staff that would be gone. That wouldn’t have been safe at all in the schools for students…Our point in closing school is not because it’s Good Friday, but because it’s not safe to open school. On the Jewish Holy Days and Muslim Holy Days the numbers of colleagues calling out was not as significant.”
School Committeeman Michael Ferrante said the matter took on a life of its own. After eliminating all religious holidays (Christian, Muslim and Jewish) from the school calendar, including Good Friday for the first time, there wasn’t initially a great deal of pushback. That changed radically in September when teachers and the Revere Teacher’s Association (RTA) began to fight to get the day back.
It culminated on Oct. 18 when the matter was addressed before a crowd of teachers and staff members before the School Committee.
“If you don’t have the teachers to run the schools, what can you do?” asked Ferrante. “With the other religions, we might have 30 or so teachers that were going to be absent. With this, we were going to have about 130 teachers out. This took on a life of its own. People were livid.”
He said it was the best deal the schools could get given the circumstances.
“We were going to be really shorthanded,” he said. “We would have to shut the schools down because public safety of the kids was going to be a big problem. We tried to entice them by continuing to have June 14 as the last day of school – an act of good faith on our part.”
Erik Fearing of the RTA said they were satisfied with the decision.
“This has settled the issue rather nicely,” he said.
A survey of staff and teachers at each Revere school showed that schools like the Garfield Elementary would have 60 percent of its staff gone. Others, like the Lincoln and Whelan Schools would have more than 30 percent of the staff out. Most other schools had far fewer teachers requesting Good Friday off, such as Revere High School, which only had 3 percent.
The deal will be that the schools are closed on April 14, which is Good Friday. The last day of school, however, has not been moved and will remain at June 14.
Kelly said that’s because the Revere schools already go beyond the required 180-day state mandate. Revere students go to school this year 184 days, and so Kelly said they would absorb the new day off within the extra four-day margin.
It will, however, require renewed contract negotiations with the RTA, and Kelly said that will take place next month. The topic will be around amending the ‘Temporary Leaves of Absence’ provision within the contracts – a provision that encompasses religious holidays, personal days and things like jury duty.
In September, for the Muslim Eid holidays, Kelly said that more than 500 students were called in absent by their parents for religious reasons. Those students were not penalized and given excused absences and a chance to make up any missed homework or classwork.
Since as far back as anyone can remember, Good Friday has been a day off for Revere schools. A few years back, to accommodate all major religions represented in the increasingly diverse district, the schools adopted a policy of taking all religious holidays listed on the state calendar.
That proved problematic in 2015 when a number of Muslim and Jewish holidays hit in September all at once – and when combined with Labor Day, it meant students were out of school for significant periods of time just prior to standardized testing dates.
“No matter what you do, you’re not going to make everyone happy on this issue,” said Kelly. “In the end, it’s our job to figure out this issue and what’s best for the kids. It might be we have school on every Holy Day as we did in recent years prior to this. It is really important everyone is treated fairly.”