Grief over Good Friday continued at the April 9 ORR School Committee meeting, as one resident introduced a petition with 115 signatures opposing the Joint School Committee’s decision to switch Good Friday in 2015 from a religious holiday into a regular school day.
Margaret McGee of Rochester said that in 1776 the Declaration of Independence established the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. *
“And I still believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” said McGee.
The joint committees voted on March 27 to make Good Friday a regular school, Superintendent Doug White pointed out. He said in order for the vote to be rescinded and a new vote taken, one member from the prevailing side, a member who voted to nix the religious holiday, would have to make the motion to rescind and the motion would need to be seconded. Subsequent debate would take place, and then the original motion would be made, seconded, and re-voted.
Slightly complicating matters, some members who originally voted for the change are not returning to the committee after elections. Rochester School Committee Member Michelle Cusolito did not run for reelection, and Tim Scholz lost the election later in the evening.
“We look at the best practice for the best quality of education,” said Chairman James O’ Brien. He said the committees looked at several factors when making the vote on the school calendar.
Rochester resident Robert McGee told the committee, “Nine out of ten people that I have talked to are against it.” He added that “most people” are also going to keep their kids home on Good Friday next year.
O’Brien said there was no attack on any singular religion. “It was in defense of all religions,” said O’ Brien. “Jewish, or Hindu, or no faith at all.” He continued, “We try to make the best decisions that will affect great education.”
School Committee Member Charles Motta said he would like information about how students and their families actually celebrate Good Friday this year to better understand the situation.
Speaking in favor of the committees’ decision to eliminate Good Friday, Rick Cusolito, husband to former School Committee Member Michelle Cusolito, cited the 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman Supreme Court decision regarding public funding of religious schools. The ruling established the “Lemon Test,” a three-prong test concerning law and religion.
The Lemon Test governs legislation pertaining to religion, which must contain each prong: 1) must include a secular purpose; 2) must not enhance or inhibit a religion; 3) there must be no “excessive government entanglement” with religion.
Since Cusolito voiced his concern at the end of the meeting, there was no further debate on the subject. The topic will likely be discussed at the next Joint School Committee meeting on May 8, however O’ Brien stressed that the meeting could be rescheduled to a different date.
Also during the meeting, the board discussed ORR school choice slots for the 2014-2015 school year, yet took no action until further information could be provided.
White said his office has received many applications rather early in the season, and his administrative assistant is receiving between 20 and 25 calls requesting information, daily.
The junior and high schools could increase its number of slots for next year and use the revenue to go toward bringing faculty levels back up, as Devoll suggested, or put toward “stuff” like computers, as suggested by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos. The schools currently have 93 school choice slots filled by out of district students.
In other matters, ORR High School Principal Michael Devoll asked the committee to vote to approve a new location to host the 2014 senior prom, after the chosen venue, Lakeview Pavilion in Foxboro, burned down April 5. Devoll said the venue has promised the return of the $1,000 deposit for the event, and the committee approved relocating the prom to the Indian Pond Country Club in Kingston.
The committee also approved the Athletic Trainer contract, which received two bids this year instead of the single bid received every year by the school’s current athletic training provider, Southcoast Occupational Health.
White said the bid from Hawthorne Medical Associates was a lower figure, however the deal was contingent upon the school’s current trainer leaving Southcoast and accepting an employment position with Hawthorne. The employee refused, so the school will continue with Southcoast.
The next meeting of the ORR School Committee is scheduled fro May 14 ay 6:00 pm in the superintendent’s conference room at ORR.
*The Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776, affirmed the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and stated the reasons for separation from the British Kingdom. It was not until the U.S. Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787 and ratified on March 4, 1789 when the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights prohibited Congress from establishing a federal religion, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The Fourteenth Amendment subsequently protected citizens from discrimination, including religious discrimination.
By Jean Perry