Breaking with tradition, elite NYC school adds a second entrance exam date to accommodate Jewish families


(New York Jewish Week) — Hunter College High School, a prestigious middle and high school in Manhattan, has added a second date for its entrance exam after a Jewish parent complained that the test was scheduled for the eve of Passover. 

Hunter spokesperson Vince Dimiceli told the New York Jewish Week that he believes this is the first time the school has offered a second test date. 

Hunter College High School, which runs from seventh to 12th grade, is a coveted destination for many New York City students. Because the school is run by Hunter College, an affiliate of the City University of New York, it is free to attend.

Its three-hour entrance exam is invitation-only, and is open only to students whose grades or scores on state tests in English and math exceed a high threshold. The school does not admit anyone after seventh grade, so the exam is students’ only chance to gain acceptance to Hunter.

Erica Rahavy, a Jewish parent, told the Jewish Week before the second test date was announced that her son was invited to take the exam, but was dismayed to see that it fell on April 5, the morning preceding the first Seder night of Passover. Although the test does not fall on the holiday itself, which begins at sundown, Rahavy said the school “has to understand that families travel to be with their families on the holidays.” 

Hunter’s decision to add a second date to allow for Passover preparation reflects increasing sensitivity to religious observance at New York City schools, which have begun in recent years to close for a broad range of religious holidays. And it speaks to the particular sensitivities around Jewish practice in a city where Jews still make up more than 10% of the population. At the same time, the incident reflects how religious Jewish parents still contend with making sometimes difficult choices around holiday observance.

“I have no problem missing the day of school for my kids,” Rahavy said. “We’ve done that before to celebrate holidays with our families. It shouldn’t be quite so high-stakes that it’s just this one day or nothing.” 

In an email sent to Hunter’s admissions office last week and obtained by the Jewish Week, Rahavy wrote that her family has plans to travel on April 5 and asked if the school offered an “alternate time for students celebrating the holiday.” 

The school’s response, sent yesterday, was terse: “The Entrance Exam will only be held on Wednesday, April 5, 2023 in the morning and students have about three hours to complete the exam. HCCS is unable to administer make-up exams.” 

Upon receiving Hunter’s response, Rahavy was worried that she would be forced to “decide to have my son take this exam or have a holiday with our family, which isn’t really a choice we should be asked to make.” 

Soon afterward, however, the school changed its answer. As of Wednesday, a note on Hunter’s admissions website read, “An alternate test date for religious observance on Tuesday afternoon, April 4, 2023, held at Hunter College, will be made available upon request.” 

A day earlier, that line had not appeared on the site. But Dimiceli told the Jewish Week, ‘[W]e always knew we would need to make accommodations. That was not reflected on the Campus School website. It is so now.”

Rahavy did not immediately respond to a request for comment about her reaction to the additional test date. But speaking to the Jewish Week before the date was added, she said accommodating a widely observed Jewish holiday in New York City felt like a clear choice.

“I can’t imagine they would have planned this out on Christmas Eve when families travel to be with each other for the holidays,” she said.