One part of the Harwood Union school district’s mission statement reads, “that every person is valued as an individual. “

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for Judaism. It could be argued it is as important to Jewish people as Christmas and Easter combined would be to Christians.

Growing up on eastern Long Island, I had many Jewish friends and classmates. Yom Kippur was a day off for everyone. When I was an adolescent, I would jokingly thank my Jewish classmates for the day off from school, tests and homework.

As I got older I realized why it was important for everyone to have that day off, including Catholics like myself. It meant that the students observing Yom Kippur were not going to miss out on events happening at school that day. They were not going to miss an important test, music lesson, science lab, field trip or school photographs. Yes, even school photographs.

Others have persecuted Jewish people for thousands of years. Certainly in America and here at Harwood, they should not suffer for following their religious beliefs.

Even though, according to its mission statement, Harwood administration would like you to believe that each student is treated as an individual. This was not the case during Yom Kippur this year (Oct. 9 and 10).

Team photographs were scheduled during this important religious day. I had one senior on my cross-country team who could not be present because of Yom Kippur. The only year that she was going to purchase a yearbook and she would not be in the team photo!

I was given only 24-hour notice that team photos were to be taken. Had I been aware of the conflict, I would have asked the Harwood administration to reschedule. Not sure if they would have done it anyway. It would have cost money for a photographer to work a second day. School administrators do not usually want to spend extra money.

It would have been much easier if they had been sensitive to the needs of the members of our Jewish community and not scheduled a schoolwide task such as team photographs on this date in the first place.

Fortunately, thanks to the quick thinking and expression of sensitivity by our athletic director, Chris Langevin, the issue was resolved. Mr. Langevin organized another date for the photograph, on a weekend no less. And, being somewhat of an amateur photographer, he took the photo himself.

It seems, at least for the moment, that all was good. The student who suffered through this process is a pleasant, wonderful, mature young woman. I am confident that she will forgive the thoughtlessness and insensitivity of the Harwood administration. After all, Yom Kippur is a day of atonement.

However the Harwood administration must be sensitive to the needs of all students and avoid conflicts such as this in the future.

Several schools in Vermont do not just give lip service to their students. They back it up with their actions. They do not schedule schoolwide events during this most important religious observance.

It is my understanding that the Harwood administration has been approached by our Jewish community to follow the lead of other Vermont schools. Their pleas have been ignored.

This was a high school event, so Harwood’s middle school principal, Duane Pierson should not be to blame. Most likely, neither should Harwood’s new high school co- principal, Sam Krottinger. However, if Mr. Krottinger is to continue on as a headmaster, high school principal or possibly superintendent someday, he is going to require better mentorship than he is presently receiving.

As a teacher and a coach, I learned very early in my career that, to demand respect from my students, I had to respect them in return.

How can our community expect to be respected in their needs and wishes for such important issues as school redesign when their needs for simple, less complicated issues are not given the least bit of consideration?

Good luck, Harwood administration, with getting community support for a Harwood bond and school redesign. Looks like you are going to need it.

John Kerrigan, a retired high school science teacher, is the Harwood Union High School cross-country coach and is in the Run Vermont Hall of Fame.

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