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New law permits schools to close for more religious and cultural holidays

Photo via UrbanUrban_ru/Flickr

For decades, the city closed schools for Christian and Jewish holidays but other religions’ holidays — like Eid al-Fitr and Diwali — didn’t receive the same benefit. But the passage of a new law backed by elected officials in Flushing is changing that.

Assemblyman Ron Kim introduced the legislation, and it was passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Dec. 17. The law allows the Department of Education to consider closing schools on days where large student absences are expected due to religious or cultural days of observance.

“This is about making sure that all Americans, regardless of where we come from, are institutionally recognized as first-class citizens,” Kim said. “Our strength as a democratic society lies in our ability to appreciate diversity and grow together by learning from each other.”

During a press conference, Kim explained that schools in Flushing will now be able to suspend classes for the Lunar New Year, which traditionally occurs in late January or early February. Lunar New Year is one of the most significant holidays for many Chinese, Korean, Japanese and other Asian ethnic groups, all of which are represented in the Flushing community.

The law calls for school districts to consider closing schools on holidays that are important to groups that account for at least 7.5 percent of the local population. In Flushing, 57 percent of the population is of Asian ancestry.

The new law will also affect students of Muslim or Hindu backgrounds, who account for a large share of students in many Queens school districts.

The passage of the bill marks the end of a long struggle that started with Congresswoman Grace Meng when she was a state assemblywoman in 2009 and first introduced a similar bill.

“Clearly, the time has come for our school system to recognize important holidays such as Lunar New Year, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha just as it rightly does for holidays of other cultures and ethnicities,” Meng said. “We now need school districts around the country to follow New York’s lead, and I will continue my efforts on the federal level to accomplish that goal.”

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