By Madina Toure
Borough elected officials say they are disappointed in the city Department of Education’s decision to keep parent-teacher conferences scheduled on St. Patrick’s Day, although they differ on whether it should be a school holiday.
St. Patrick’s Day is a religious feast day marking the death of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, that has become an international festival honoring Irish culture.
Yuridia Peña, the DOE’s deputy press secretary, said the parent-teacher conference must take place the same day as the March 17 holiday.
“Schools are responsible for holding one of four parent-teacher conferences on St. Patrick’s Day, and we’ve directed schools to work with families and provide other opportunities to have parent conferences for those unable to attend,” Peña said.
A bill that state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) introduced to establish St. Patrick’s Day as a school holiday in districts with an Irish population of one million or more passed the state Senate’s Rules Committee by a vote of 15 to three.
At 12.9 percent, the state has the largest concentrated Irish population and New York City was the first to host a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in 1762, according to Avella, who called the holiday “a day of religious and cultural significance for the Irish-American community.”
“New York City got it right when we became the first to host the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade—let’s continue that tradition by ensuring that students and teachers alike are able to observe this special holiday,” he said.
Last week, he condemned City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s decision “to write-off the possibility of a Saint Patrick’s Day school holiday before a conversation has even occurred.”
“Just as she demonstrated an insensitivity to the Irish community by scheduling parent-teacher conferences on their sole holiday, she has once again shown that insensitivity through this recent dismissal,” he said.
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who is Irish-American, said he wrote a letter to the DOE five years ago about the need to reschedule the parent-teacher conferences and that he also dealt with the issues when he was a public school teacher.
In a letter dated Jan. 13 to Fariña about the DOE’s decision to allow middle schools to hold parent-teacher conferences on St. Patrick’s Day, Dromm asked that any conferences that day be rescheduled and that they not be scheduled on that day in the future.
But he said the holiday is not a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church—days where Catholics are obliged to attend mass—like other holidays such as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, Christmas on Dec. 25 and Ascension Thursday on May 5, the 40th day of Easter.
“What I was asking for is a rearranging of the parent-teacher conference to another date,” Dromm said. “I’m not generally opposed to it, having a holiday. My ideas was just to reschedule those parent-teacher conferences. I haven’t really taken a position on Senator Avella’s bill, so I’m neither in favor of or against it at this point.”
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour