Pols, leaders want official Lunar New Year school holiday

By Madina Toure

Lawmakers and cultural groups have expressed their disappointment over the absence of a Lunar New Year holiday on next year’s calendar after Mayor Bill de Blasio recognized two Eid holidays.

Last week, de Blasio and City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that the city would become the largest school district in the country to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as holidays on the official school calendar.

Starting in the 2015-2016 school year, schools will close Sept. 24 for Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr. The following year Eid will take place over the summer in 2016 and will be a designated holiday for those attending summer school.

The recognition of the two Muslim holidays has been praised overall, with frustration seemingly centered more on the absence of Lunar New Year on the school calendar.

“This is a significant matter to me, many of my constituents and my colleagues. Someone needs to explain to us why this hasn’t happened, despite being led to believe it would,” City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said in a statement.

A group of 12 congressional lawmakers wrote a letter to de Blasio dated March 9 decrying the holiday’s absence on the calendar.

The letter’s signatories included U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) and U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica).

“We are happy to work with you to resolve any outstanding barriers to implementing an Asian Lunar New Year school holiday for the 2016-2017 New York City Department of Education school holiday calendar,” the congressional lawmakers wrote.

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.

Christine Colligan, co-president of the Korean American Parents Association of New York, congratulated the Muslim community but said de Blasio faltered on his promise to make Lunar New Year a school holiday.

The Asian community has been trying to get Lunar New Year to be recognized as a school holiday for the last 20 years, Colligan said.

“What is the reason for excluding?,” she said. “Is the mayor lying or is he going to be acting just like Bloomberg, who’s been not listening to the request of the Asian community. This is the city that has a great diversity and variety of culture.”

De Blasio said he would continue to work with City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina on getting Lunar New Year recognized as a school holiday.

“What we’ve found in this process is that we are in a very tight situation, as I said, with the number of days that we have to achieve each year, so it’s going to take more work to get to that,” he said. “We remain focused on it, but it will take more work, because we have to balance a lot of factors.”

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, stressed the issues are merely logistical, noting the Eid holiday took time to create.

Under state law, schools are required to meet 180 days of instruction between September and June each school year, with about 15 holidays falling within the school year, he said. They have to add or subtract days to the school calendar based on when floating holidays fall, he explained.

In December, a law sponsored by state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and co-sponsored by state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) requiring school boards to consider closing schools on a day when many students will be absent due to religious or cultural observances was passed.

Meng first introduced the bill when she was in the state Assembly. The law will go into effect next year.

Just this month, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a measure Meng introduced calling on Congress to formally recognize the cultural and historical significance of Lunar New Year. It is waiting for a vote in the House of Representatives.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour[email protected]local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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