No school on Diwali, Lunar New Year

By Madina Toure

Starting next year, school holidays will be allowed on Lunar New Year, Diwali and Eid.

The law, sponsored by state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and co-sponsored by City Councilwoman Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing), requires school boards to consider closing schools on a day when many students will be absent due to religious or cultural observances.

The law would allow students who celebrate Lunar New Year, the Chinese New Year, and Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus every year. The law also covers religious observances such as Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim celebration ending the monthlong fasting period of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice.

The bill passed the Assembly Feb. 3 and the state Senate on May 13. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill the night of Dec. 17.

“No longer will parents have to decide between sending their child to school and celebrating their cultural heritage,” Stavisky said at a news conference celebrating the new law.

Members of the self-proclaimed “Flushing Team” expressed their satisfaction with the passage of the bill.

“Now the whole state can celebrate this holiday,” City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said of the inclusion of Lunar New Year “Kids can stay home and enjoy and relax and celebrate the holidays.”

Other Council members also praised the new law as a way to encourage city schools to formally observe religious or cultural holidays.

“People from all over the world come here and live with us and their holidays and their cultures also need to be respected and accorded the same kind of opportunity of any other cultures now,” Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-East Elmhurst) said.

Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside), another co-sponsor for the bill, said the bill sent a “strong message to the city of New York.”

Students and families should not have to choose between their education and celebrating an important holiday, Braunstein said.

“We all know that the Asian-American community puts a great emphasis on academics and attendance and we shouldn’t be putting people in a position of having to make those decisions,” Braunstein said.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) first introduced the bill in when she was in the state Assembly. Out of the 2.2 million residents in Queens County, 24 percent are Asian, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. In Flushing alone, 57 percent of residents are Asian.

The bill is effective immediately, but schools would not be automatically closed this coming February for Lunar New Year.

Hellen Kim, executive director of the Korean American Youth Foundation, said the passage of the bill parallels the work that the foundation engages in with Asian-American high school students.

“We strive to make sure that they understand the cultural traditions of their fathers, their mothers, their grandfathers before them, as much as we try to get them to be successful in America,” Kim said. “And I think an act toward this sort of observance really highlights for us and shows them how important the work that we’re doing is.”

The South Asian community expressed appreciation for the bill as well.

“This is a year of great joy for us and we look forward to having our children at home this coming Diwali and appreciate it, and we always love this community,” said Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America. “The South Asian community will flourish in the area of Flushing and many, many parts of New York.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour‌e@cng‌local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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