PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — A civil lawsuit filed against Portage Public Schools has forced the district to move graduation day for Portage Northern High School.
The plaintiff in the case filed in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court Monday is Portage Northern senior Minaleah Koffron, who is Jewish.
Her school’s graduation was scheduled for May 26, which is also on the Jewish holy day of Shavuot. Koffron’s lawyers argued the district, Superintendent Mark Bielang and Principal Nathan Ledlow broke their own anti-discrimination policy, Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Article 1 of the state constitution, and the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit says there are several days each year when Jewish believers like Koffron are “prohibited from attending school or school events, including but not limited to holy days such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shavuot.”
Because graduation was scheduled the same day as Shavuot, court documents say Koffron “has suffered mental anguish, physical and emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment.”
Rabbi Mordechai Haller of Chabad House Kalamazoo says the family is “involved in the community,” calling them “observants.” He explained Shavuot is a pilgrimage Jewish holiday observed as the ‘time of the giving of the Torah.’
“It is a big holiday, in some ways. It’s not one day. It’s a two-day holiday,” Haller said. “For some reason, in the most secular world, it’s not as well known… But it is an important Jewish holiday.”
This year’s graduation is not the only example stated in the lawsuit. In 2017, Portage Northern High scheduled a homecoming dance on Yom Kippur. The lawsuit says Bielang at the time “promised he would communicate with building administrators and district administrators to develop calendaring policies that would prevent the exclusion of observant Jewish students from major events” but failed to do so.
Koffron claims her parents sent the district annual notices in 2012 of Jewish holidays and Shabbat to “not schedule important educational activities, events or programs (on the academic calendar) during times where their Children would be excluded from participating.” Regarding this year’s graduation, documents say Ledlow was made aware, yet “refused to change the date despite having ample time.”
The lawsuit asked the court to require a rescheduling of the graduation date, ensure the district does not repeat similar scheduling and award Koffron at least $25,000 in damages, plus court costs and fees.
On Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge Curtis Bell issued a temporary order asking the district to reschedule Portage Northern High’s graduation to a day that is not a Jewish holy day. However, the decision to reschedule is not final yet. Another hearing in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court is scheduled for Friday afternoon.
As of Thursday, Portage Public Schools and their attorneys did not respond to News 8’s requests for comment.