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Flap on School Board Vote on Shavuot is Settled

Agreement was reached today in federal district court here that a group of Jewish voters in the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District in Long Island could vote tomorrow in a school board election after the school board rejected a protest over the scheduling of the election on Wednesday, the first day of Shavuot.

Dennis Rapps, executive director of The National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), said Judge Jacob Mishler, sitting for the federal district court for the Eastern District of New York here, issued an order formalizing the agreement reached in discussion before his bench by attorneys for the school district and COLPA attorneys.

Rabbi Howard Wolk, rabbi of the Young Israel of Patchogue, initiated the legal action after he was informed a month ago about the Shavuot election scheduling. He wrote to Henry Read, superintendent of the school district, asking that some action be taken to enable him to exercise his franchise.

Wolk noted in his letter that a similar situation had arisen several years before that and at that time he had been unable to vote. To prevent a similar occurrence, he had sent to school district officials a 20-year calendar listing the dates of Jewish religious festivals.

PROVISIONS OF THE SETTLEMENT

Rapps explained that Judge Mishler incorporated the agreement in an order, making it law, because, when Wolk asked for approval of his use of an absentee ballot, so that he could vote without violating Jewish law, district attorneys said he could not, contending that the Education Law of New York State barred the school district from issuing absentee ballots.

The settlement provides not for absentee ballots but for the plaintiffs to come to the school district offices here for the voting tomorrow. Rapps said the plaintiffs will use the same ballots as those to be used on the scheduled election day but will vote one day earlier.

In preparation for the case, COLPA obtained affadavits from 42 other observant Jews living in the district, so that Mishler’s order applied to 43 plaintiffs.

The action of Mishler in issuing an order embodying the agreement means that the order gives the agreement the force of law, which supersedes the state law and protects the school district office from any legal challenge to the grant of voting rights to some qualified residents at a time different from the scheduled voting date.

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