July 19, 2024
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Not All School Calendar Changes Are Great for Everyone

In Rabbi Daniel Alter’s article (“Common-Sense School Calendars: Yeshiva Break,” January 31, 2019), he proposes the idea that yeshiva break should always coincide with Martin Luther King (MLK) Day, as opposed to sometimes yes and other times not. He makes a convincing argument by talking about three scenarios: 1) The family where both parents work full-time jobs who have children in elementary/high school and also in local Jewish universities. 2) The mother who has to “burn” another vacation day since MLK day doesn’t fall out during yeshiva break week. 3) The family who is trying to plan a family simcha in advance but can’t do so effectively as the yeshiva break is not at a predictable time.

Though all should be taken in consideration, as a parent who has a child in the public school system (due to his special needs, not by choice), I read this article with a different lens. Before this past yeshiva break we sat down to decide how we would plan the time away from school. When we looked at the calendar and saw that MLK day was during yeshiva break, our hearts sank. “Really? It was so much better when it fell out the week beforehand!”

Allow me to explain. Taking a family vacation with our son who has special needs is extremely difficult. Long ago we resigned ourselves that day trips would be much more successful, especially when he is at school.

Don’t get me wrong. We love our son. However, the experience of an outing is made much more difficult and tense when he is with us. It is a lot more pleasurable for our other children when he does not come. They try to be good siblings and are understanding. However, when they finally get yeshiva break they have the opportunity of having our complete attention without feeling guilty that we are not attending to our teenage son with autism. His being in school, spending his day constructively (in an environment he really enjoys!) allows us to spend the time together in a more relaxed way. In this way, every member of the family gets to have a good day.

This past winter break, Monday of yeshiva break was circled on our calendar when we could do one of two things: do nothing “fun” with the children outside the house as their brother was home from school (after having been home for an extended period of time at the end of December), or take him along on the outing and risk it being a very tense experience.

Neither was something to which we looked forward. So we grinned and bore it. We took care of things around the house and ordered in for supper (going out is a major ordeal with our son, but that is for a different time). We tried to give each child some individual time by getting them out of the house to run a “fun” errand without their sibling.

As we reviewed the day that evening, my wife and I thought the same thing: “Wouldn’t it have been nice had MLK day been last week instead of during yeshiva break?”

When seeing Rabbi Alter’s article, it struck a chord. I read the article twice: once as a parent with a child with special needs whose school calendar is different; it was a tough read. I then read it a second time, to be fair, through the lens of a parent with typically developing children and the article made perfect sense.

I just wonder how many others read it the first way and not the second.

Yehuda Minchenberg
Passaic
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