The Continuing Calendar Chasm in Randolph

Bergen

RANDOLPH –  New school board member Tom Duffy got right to the point near the end of yet another passionate four hour-plus meeting Tuesday night.

“I think we blew it,” Duffy said, referencing a continuing “chasm” in this affluent Morris County community over not property taxes or the basic curriculum, but the school calendar.

Last year it was Columbus Day, which the board changed on the calendar to Indigenous People’s Day only to reverse course after a torrent of criticism.

This year, it’s Rosh Hashanah, the two-day celebration of the Jewish New Year. Schools will close next year for only the first day of the holiday, a move the board reaffirmed, albeit by a 5-4 vote, despite many speakers urging the reinstatement of a two-day holiday. That prompted Duffy to say half the community remains unhappy.

On one hand, this is merely a school calendar. But on the other hand, the school board finds itself engulfed in heavy currents originating far outside Randolph.

The Anti-Defamation League says anti-Semitic incidents across the nation, New Jersey among them, are on the rise.

On the purely political front, Republicans see capital in criticizing school boards and public education in general. Think of rhetoric about critical race theory and “indoctrinating” students.

Both realities cascaded upon the school board.

Deborah Smith, a Morris County Commissioner, helped draw public attention to the issue with a statement last week that referenced the township’s tradition as a welcoming vacation spot for Jewish families at a time when many leading resorts and hotels excluded Jews. She suggested that shortening the commemoration of the Jewish New Year stands that tradition on its head.

State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco was the first speaker Tuesday night.

“There is a concern about the elimination of that second day as a holiday for those that celebrate,” said Bucco, whose 25th District includes Randolph.

Assemblyman Brian Bergen, a fellow Republican from LD-25, said the board should change the holiday back to two days, adding that there has been “too much turmoil” in Randolph.

Also weighing in were two men seeking the GOP nomination in CD-11 – Tayfun Selen, now a county commissioner, and Larry Friscia.

As is to be expected in such forums, some speakers drifted to the extreme.

Martin Niemoller’s famous words about fighting the Nazis were referenced, as was the mass school shooting four years ago at Parkland High School.

These connections were so far removed from the issue at hand, they seemed offensive.

More to the point, though, is the rise in anti-Semitism across the land.

With some in the Jewish community already on edge, speakers said the board’s move could be seen as local indifference to the Jewish faith.

But in the end, a slim board majority reinforced the original decision, citing the “transparency” in which it was made and agreeing it was best for the entire district. And, of course, it will be reviewed again for the 2023-24 school year.

One critic urged that a slate be put together to run against board members who backed the change.

Fair point, but that doesn’t always work. A three-person slate opposed to the board establishment formed last year after the Columbus Day fiasco. Only one candidate won.

That was Duffy.

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