Lawmakers renew call for Lunar New Year school holiday

Photo courtesy Dan Squadron
By Joe Anuta

A group of lawmakers is calling for the Lunar New Year to be made a school holiday in the city, but the message has fallen on deaf ears in the state Legislature many times before.

State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) recently introduced a bill that would give city schoolchildren the day off on the first day of the Lunar New Year, the biggest holiday in East Asian countries, including China and Korea. The holiday is based on the lunar calendar and falls on a different day each year.

“New York is known throughout the world for its vast diversity and some of the biggest cultural celebrations in the nation,” the newly elected assemblyman said in a statement. “Establishing the Asian Lunar New Year Day as a school holiday for all city and school districts with high Asian populations would help to establish an understanding and appreciation for our many different cultures as well as this very important holiday.”

The state bill would apply to any city with a population of 1 million or more, which is only New York City, and an Asian population of at least 7.5 percent, according to the bill.

This will not be the first time Albany considers the bill. It is the exact same piece of legislation that has been introduced five times before since the 2005-06 session, with only one of the bills having an extra clause in it, according to state records. U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Bayside) was behind many of those efforts.

The city Department of Education pegs the Asian student population at 15.7 percent in the city, although that statistic includes not only East Asian countries, but also people identifying themselves as South Asian and from the Indian Subcontinent.

The first day of the Lunar New Year means many empty seats in schools heavily attended by Asian-American students. For example, last year at PS 130 in Manhattan, 80 percent of the students were absent, compared to a typical rate of around 2 percent, according to the lawmakers, and currently those students are considered excused even though the absence is marked on their records. The DOE would not provide absence numbers for PS 20, a school in the heart of Flushing.

The department contends that students need as many days in the classroom as possible and that another holiday would take away precious time for learning.

“New York’s diversity has always been one of its greatest strengths, and with so many religions practiced throughout our city, we have to weigh additional school closings with the need to give our kids as much time in the classroom as possible — especially this year, as we recover lost time from Hurricane Sandy,” the department said in a statement.

But Kim and the co-sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn), urged the DOE to create the holiday itself or to move its development day, a yearly scheduled day off, to the Lunar New Year so the children will not be counted absent.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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