District scrambles to avoid controversy over Yom Kippur count day


School officials were scrambling to smooth over any controversy following the state’s count day falling on a major Jewish holiday. 

Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, begins sundown Tuesday, Oct. 4, and ends sundown Wednesday, Oct. 5, which coincides with the state of Michigan’s count day for the 2022-23 school year.

Count day is an annual census of students in the state of Michigan which determines the level of funding that each district gets. It’s conducted among all public schools and academies in the state, and under a 1979 school aid law must be conducted on the first Wednesday of October.

Community members had raised concerns over the past few weeks, leading AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift to issue a joint statement with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about the issue.

“Count Day is the start of a month-long period,” read the joint statement. “As such, we want to assure you that students who are absent on Oct. 5 because they are observing Yom Kippur have a full month to be counted in enrollment. With that, we are confident that every student will be counted, and that no school district in Michigan should lose out on any funding as a result of Count Day falling on Oct. 5.”

Currently, state law only allows the Michigan Department of Education to grant a waiver for schools to move their count day if the school is out of session for reasons outside the school’s control, such as natural disasters and major religious holidays that would impact large numbers of students attending those schools. This provision does not, however, allow for schools who are in session to be accepted for a count day waiver.

The AAPS was one of six districts across the state who applied for count day waivers. The district’s waiver was the only one rejected by the state, as all other districts who applied took Wednesday, Oct. 5, off from school.

The statement also touched upon the persecution and gross mistreatment of Jewish people in the past, noting that the count day issue sends “a painful signal” to that community. 

“Simply put, the law needs to be changed,” continued Swift. “We stand ready to work with our partners in the Michigan Legislature to change the law around Count Day to ensure flexibility and prevent any circumstance in the future that would compromise the State of Michigan’s support of communities of faith.”

However, while the district has committed to rectifying the Yom Kippur issue, the district failed to reschedule a major professional development meeting for teachers, which is also scheduled for the first Wednesday of every month. The district was forced to apologize  but still planned to hold the scheduled district-wide meetings Wednesday afternoon.

“Clearly, we have much work to do, and together, we will continue our work together to serve our students, our staff and our Ann Arbor Public Schools community, moving toward much-needed, positive change in future years,” read the second statement from Swift alone. “We wish our Jewish students, staff and families a meaningful Yom Kippur.”