ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca City School District’s 2021-2022 academic calendar was officially approved by the Board of Education Tuesday night, answering (partially, at least) calls from students over the last few years to make the calendar cognizant of more non-Christian holidays.

The calendar underwent a few significant changes after it was first introduced last month. Its initial form was the same as the calendar adopted by TST-BOCES, but after feedback from the community the district decided to push the start of school back one day in order to avoid conflicting with Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah and adjust its late-year schedule, making it so that the Monday after Juneteenth, which had been a scheduled off-day just for students, is now an off-day for both students and staff members on June 20. Juneteenth celebrates the liberation of Black slaves in America.

While they are listed on the calendar, other non-Christian religious holidays like the beginning and end of Ramadan, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and others are not acknowledged with days off of school (though Kwanzaa does fall within the timeframe of Christmas break for students).

“I want to give a huge shout-out to our students, who, two years ago and last year as well, really have pushed us to create a more inclusive calendar,” said Deputy Superintendent Lily Talcott. “Although I certainly don’t believe that it is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I think we are getting better, and I think this second draft is an indication of that.”

Other tweaks include a reduction of Memorial Day Weekend, which will now be just a three-day weekend instead of four-day. School will start in full on Sept. 10 and the last day of the 2021-2022 academic year will be June 23 for students, June 24 for staff.

Universally, the board members were supportive and impressed with the adjustments. Both Ann Reichlin and Moira Lang thanked Talcott and others for their work and mentioned that the student push to at least have a wider range of holidays listed on the calendar had been instrumental in the district realizing it should have been giving more allowance for religious celebrations outside of Christianity.

Lang mentioned that there had been some feedback from community members with special consideration to parents working at the two universities Cornell and Ithaca College, who wanted to see the district’s Spring Break align with Cornell University’s, though if the district did adhere to that request, it would then be out of line with Ithaca College’s Spring Break.

“Perhaps Cornell could change their calendar,” suggested Rob Ainslie tongue-in-cheek, sounding unhopeful.

Board Vice President Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell acknowledged that there are still religious holidays that aren’t included or honored with off-days in the calendar, but that the newly proposed calendar was a step in the right direction. He emphasized the importance of allowing students and staff to celebrate Juneteenth with a day off of work and school.

Two Jewish community members extended their thanks to the district for its consideration.

“I just want to reiterate how meaningful it is to me and my community and I think minority communities around here that the school district is so mindful of our traditions,” said Rabbi Rachel Safman of Temple Beth-El in Ithaca, speaking to the board in-person—likely the first in-person commenter the board has had since the pandemic shutdown forced them to virtual meetings. She added that she had spoken to Mahmud Burton, the leader of the Al Huda Islamic Center, who was commiserating with her about the difficulty of navigating academic life as a religious minority. “We are so appreciative of the attention that the second draft of the calendar shows in its distinct care to our community.”

Richard Rosenfield, also in the room, echoed Safman’s sentiments.

Something to keep an eye out for if you’re a school-age reader or have one in your household: Talcott also intimated that the district could be considering changes to the snow day policy as virtual, remote learning infrastructure is built out and improved.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com