Vernon Township sixth-grader Madeline Felixbrod will be sitting in synagogue on Yom Kippur as her peers take part in picture day at Lounsberry Hollow Middle School. Her mother, Samantha Felixbrod, noticed the conflict as she waded through the school notices distributed during back-to-school night on Sept. 7. The next morning she sent an e-mail expressing her disappointment to principal Edwina Piszczek, and posted it on Facebook.
“I know picture day is minor, but they don’t close the school on Jewish holidays, and to a 10-year-old, picture day is an important event,” Felixbrod told NJJN in a phone interview. She said the situation only adds to the frustration of not having schools closed for the High Holy Days. “It’s stressful for kids to miss school for Jewish holidays. It takes four or five days to catch up on homework and notes and to get back into the swing of things. I tell my kids it’s really important, and that you have to celebrate your holidays because years ago, you couldn’t,” she said.
It’s not that she thinks there’s any malice involved, but, she said, “It’s a big group of people who schedule this, and they should have a pulse on the holidays. We are off on all the Christian holidays, and Jewish holidays are not even on their radar.”
The Felixbrods moved two years ago to Sussex County from Queens, where no conflicts arose because New York City schools are closed on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
According to Homefacts, .08 percent of Vernon Township’s population — about 24,000 in 2014 — is Jewish. Felixbrod estimates there are about five Jewish children who attend the school.
In her note to the principal, which she shared with NJJN, Felixbrod wrote, “I need to express my disappointment for my daughter and for the lack of concern for anyone who celebrates anything other than the Christian holidays.”
In an e-mail response, Piszczek called the conflict “an oversight” and said it was “in no way meant to be disrespectful.” She added, “In the future I will be diligent about checking the calendar for any religious holiday conflicts.”
Piszczek told NJJN in a phone interview that the conflict “was definitely not intentional.” Although she did “apologize and reach out to the parent,” the school could not change the picture day date. The photographer was scheduled a year ago and, Piszczek acknowledged, administrators did not have the state calendar and did not look at the 2016-17 calendar. “It’s not an excuse,” she said, and emphasized that next year “I’ll go on-line and look at the calendar. I’m the last one who wants to appear to be offending people.”
A makeup date has been set for Nov. 12.