December 7, 2020
RE: Potential conflict of academic year 2021-2022 start date with Rosh Hashanah
Dear University Presidents,
We write on behalf of the undersigned organizations, to bring to your attention that the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah coincides directly with the start of this upcoming academic year. Rosh Hashanah begins on the evening of Monday, September 6, 2021, and continues until Wednesday, September 8, 2021; Labor Day is September 6, 2021. This means that many Jewish students will likely miss all or part of the first two days of school, as many universities begin instruction on the Tuesday after Labor Day and many Jewish students believe that working or attending school on Rosh Hashanah conflicts with religious observance.
Many states have enacted religious accommodation laws to safeguard a student’s constitutional right to practice his/her religion. Even with such legal protections, students nevertheless face intangible obstacles, such as teachers not providing excused absences for missed classes or refusing extensions for required assignments. This is especially burdensome for Jewish students when Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of school because that is when professors and students establish rapport and set the tone and expectations for the semester. These classes are critical for all students to attend, and even with religious accommodations in place, we are concerned that Jewish students may be penalized for their observance of Rosh Hashanah.
We encourage you to please take all necessary steps to ensure that the beginning of your fall 2021 semester does not conflict with Rosh Hashanah. At the very least, we ask you to educate your faculty on this above predicament and the necessity of religious accommodation so that Jewish students may properly observe Rosh Hashanah without being penalized academically by their absence.
We hope that, by bringing this matter to your attention so far in advance, this will better enable your planning and accommodation of this issue. We look forward to adding your university to a forthcoming published list of campuses taking concrete steps to accommodate Jewish students and prioritize their academic success. Please let us know if we can add you to this list by the end of March 2021.
We thank you for your time and consideration of this issue.