For one Massachusetts school district, Good Friday no longer a day off
By Kenneth J. Souza
Catholic News Service
MATTAPOISETT, Mass. (CNS) -- Despite several residents' vocal opposition to removing Good Friday as a day off from next year's public school calendar, Massachusetts school and union officials voted June 2 to uphold a previous decision to treat April 3, 2015, as a regular school day.
Members of the joint Old Rochester Regional District School Committee and Massachusetts School Superintendency Union No. 55 approved a decision reached in March. The committee sets policy for all public schools in three towns -- Mattapoisett, Marion and Rochester.
Making the day Catholics and other Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Christ a normal school day in the 2014-2015 academic calendar eradicates years of tradition that always dictated the Friday before Easter to be a day off.
In lieu of Good Friday, the committee opted to make the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which had traditionally been a half-day, a full vacation day.
That didn't sit well with many residents in the three towns, who feel Good Friday is sacred and should be observed as such.
A petition drive, spearheaded by Margaret McGee of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Rochester, was soon circulating in each of the towns after that last meeting, resulting in some 650 signatures asking the committee to reconsider its decision to hold classes on Good Friday.
"I know that everyone I spoke to who signed my petition, they're keeping their kids home, so they're going to find out eventually that people aren't going to show up," McGee told The Anchor, newspaper of the Fall River Diocese.
"It's so upsetting to me, because they're insinuating it's all about education, but they can take any day of the year and make it a regular school day," she said shortly after the June 2 meeting. "Maybe they should have school on Patriots' Day and teach the kids what it's all about."
Patriots' Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts.
During more than an hour of debate -- which at times became emotional and a bit heated -- between committee members and the residents present, the pros and cons of observing a decidedly religious holiday in a secular school system were raised.
Some, like Joseph Napoli of St. Rita's Parish in Marion, supported McGee's assertion that Good Friday should remain a day off.
Napoli, who himself served on the regional district school committee back in the 1980s, said they tried to have classes on Good Friday once before.
"The community was up in arms and they let us know about it," Napoli said. "More than two-thirds of the teachers didn't show up, and a like number of students didn't show, so education didn't take place that day. We hired substitute teachers to babysit at a considerable amount of money. I don't think we need to repeat that."
But others, like Isabel Gomes McCann of Rochester, who identified herself as a Catholic familiar with canon law, said Good Friday is neither a "holy day of obligation" nor a "holy day of observance" in the liturgical calendar.
"In canon law, Good Friday is pretty much treated like Ash Wednesday," McCann said. "The only thing that is required of a Christian is abstinence, which is mostly to not eat meat as a source of penance, and to fast. And children under the age of 18 are excused from that. So it is not a day of obligation.
"And if we start behaving that way with regards to Good Friday, what happens to Ash Wednesday? What happens to all of Holy Week? What happens to all the other days that by canon law are not obligatory? I feel as a school committee, this needs to be about the school calendar."
Before the vote, James Higgins of Mattapoisett and superintendent Doug White both suggested the committee needed to gather more accurate data about faculty and student absentee rates before making a final decision.
"I don't think we should necessarily change traditions for our community," Higgins said. "There was no driving factor to change the calendar to remove Good Friday other than some people's opinions that we shouldn't observe religious holidays. My personal opinion is that we traditionally had Good Friday off, and I'm in support of voting to keep it that way."
Although she was disappointed the vote didn't go her way, McGee doesn't have any regrets about speaking out.
"I think the Holy Spirit inspired me to do this," McGee added. "Sometimes you have to be the hands or feet or voice of Christ. I don't understand how people can look at this as an ordinary day -- they can pick any day and they pick this one for their education?"
- Souza is a special projects reporter at The Anchor, newspaper of the Fall River Diocese.