Aspen School District meeting with Jewish parents gets tense
November 15, 2015
Dozens of Jewish parents called a meeting with high-ranking Aspen School District officials Thursday to articulate their grievances resulting from scheduling conflicts with the high holidays.
About 40 people attended the meeting, led by parent Katy Frisch, including Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy and school board members as well as parents, teachers, principals, Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch and Mayor Steve Skadron.
The meeting came after Aspen Middle School's outdoor education trip took place earlier this fall during Rosh Hashana, and Aspen High School's experiential-education trip was held over Yom Kippur. Both are Jewish high holidays.
"I don't think it's a bad thing upon occasion to be raised this way — to look at your child and say, 'You know what, sometimes I think you have to make a sacrifice for your faith,'" board member Sheila Wills said at Thursday's meeting.
She added: "So maybe on those days when those kids do have to do a make-up test, maybe that's how you teach them that."
Wills' comments didn't sit well with many in the room.
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"You are being extremely offensive right now, Sheila. I don't know you, but Jews make sacrifices all the time," Aspen parent Kimberly Schlosser said. "You're saying this should happen because we're only 5 to 10 percent of the population, and that our children should have to take make-up tests … because our kids are Jewish? Seriously?"
"I'm saying that it's not going to be perfect going forward," Wills responded.
"We have not expected perfection, nor have we been shown perfection," Schlosser said. "I'm actually completely shocked, flabbergasted and somewhat speechless right now. And if our children were in the room, I would really be embarrassed for you. I'm sorry to say that, but I can't believe what I just heard, in the year 2015, in Aspen, Colorado."
"You don't have to deal with this," Aspen parent Heather Cramer said to Wills. "You don't have to not have your kids home at Christmas. I could go on, but I think that statement was just missing everything heard for the last hour."
When an apologetic Wills tried defending her claim, one parent interrupted, "I think you should just stop," to which people in the room nodded and agreed.
In an interview with The Aspen Times in October, Maloy said calendar issues were to blame for the school board district scheduling its trips over the Jewish holidays.
The many factors Maloy said the school district must consider in scheduling the calendar include the Colorado High School Activities Association's football bye week as well as statewide standardized and International Baccalaureate testing.
In addition to this year's "tight calendar," Maloy and school board President Sandra Peirce said that experiential-education's recent change from spring to fall has further complicated scheduling.
"We attempt to work with as many groups as possible. It's difficult to create a calendar that appeases everyone on every issue," Maloy said. "And we take that seriously when we formulate the calendar," which Maloy said takes between four and five months to create and approve.
Regardless of how the calendar falls, some parents, religious leaders and teachers argue that religion should come before high school sports.
"Someone needs to understand, it's the World Series, the Masters, the Super Bowl of the Jewish religion," said Leah Davis, who sat her son out of this year's experiential-education trip due to its scheduling over Yom Kippur. "It's the biggest Jewish holiday of the year."
In an interview with The Aspen Times in October, Aspen Rabbi David Segal, who's worked with the school district over the past few years, said Maloy reached out to him about the calendar.
Segal said he could list at least a dozen families who were forced to choose between sending their children with their friends on their school's biggest trip of the year or keeping them home with their family to celebrate the biggest Jewish holiday of the year.
Segal estimates roughly 230 families belong to his congregation alone.
"It just put everyone in such an unfair position, and it made being Jewish feel like a punishment," Davis said. "It's as if you have to say to your kids, 'I'm sorry you're Jewish. I'm sorry you can't go on this amazing, outstanding experience.'"
While Schlosser said she doesn't think the school board's decision was a malicious act, she said "it wasn't a very thoughtful decision, and we sincerely hope those who create the schedules are more mindful of our religious observances, as well as others, in the future."
The next time the school board anticipates a possible scheduling conflict between experiential-education and the Yom Kippur holiday is in 2018, Maloy said.
"Yes, we're apologetic that it happened. It's unfortunate and we've attempted to take steps to remedy that," Maloy said last month. "Unfortunately, the remedy didn't satisfy all parties."
At Thursday's meeting, Maloy said he welcomes anyone to sit with him and have the conversation "of what makes a perfect calendar."