By Madina Toure
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) has introduced a bill that would eliminate Brooklyn-Queens Day from the school calendar to make way for a Lunar New Year holiday, but the city Department of Education said the swap is not legally possible to implement.
The Brooklyn-Queens Day, enacted May 28, 1861, celebrates the founding of the Sunday School movement in Brooklyn. It is also celebrated in Queens since more of the observing population moved to the borough.
Stavisky said the holiday is outdated and an alternative to addressing the logistical issues behind making Lunar New Year a holiday.
“It seemed to me like this was a good area,” Stavisky announced at a news conference Tuesday at her district office at 142-29 37th Ave. in downtown Flushing.
But a DOE spokeswoman said Brooklyn-Queens Day is a day of professional development, where teachers work a full day, so it cannot be exchanged for a religious holiday observance in which teachers would not work. Teachers must have at least two to three days of professional development per school year.
Mayor de Blasio said he remains committed to securing the holiday.
“We remain focused on it, but it will take more work, because we have to balance a lot of factors,” he said
Brooklyn-Queens Day is a legal state holiday for students attending public schools in Brooklyn and Queens, but the DOE extended it to all five boroughs in 2005 when it was included in the teachers’ collective bargaining contract as a citywide professional development day, the spokeswoman explained.
Under state law, schools must provide 180 days of instruction between September and June each school year, with about 15 holidays on the calendar. They have to add or subtract days to the school calendar based on when floating holidays fall.
State Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) agreed with Stavisky, saying that nobody celebrates the Sunday School holiday anymore.
“I think this is a well-thought out plan that is something that will work,” Braunstein said.
Elected officials have met with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, but the plan to remove the Brooklyn-Queens Day was formulated after the meeting.
Starting in the 2015-2016 school year, schools will close Sept. 24 for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The following year, Eid al-Fitr will take place over the summer in 2016 and will be a designated holiday for those attending summer school.
Asian-American students make up roughly 15 percent of the city’s public school population. Leading schools in Asian majority neighborhoods have absentee rates as high as 80 percent on the New Year holiday.
In December, a law sponsored by Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) and Stavisky mandating that school boards consider closing schools on a day when a large number of students will be absent due to religious or cultural observances was passed. It will go into effect next year.
Lawmakers commended the recognition of the Eid holidays but said de Blasio failed to deliver on his campaign promise to make Lunar New Year an official school holiday.
“Let’s keep pushing him otherwise it won’t happen,” City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said.
The mayor defaulted on his promise not only for Lunar New Year but the Hindu holiday of Diwali, Kim said.
“You can’t just look at one community and not all,” he said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour