The Year of the Horse is already bringing big changes: the State Assembly has announced that they have passed a bill permitting New York City public schools to close during significant cultural and religious holidays, and Mayor de Blasio says he plans to add the Lunar New Year to the school calendar.
The legislation, which was passed yesterday, gives the city permission to close school on holidays that are likely to affect "a considerable proportion" of students. One in 6 public school students is Asian-American and many classrooms are close to half-empty on the first day of the Lunar New Year as students celebrate the holiday with their families. "Without this day, the children wouldn’t even know their relatives," a mother who has children in the fourth and sixth grades, told the Times this weekend.
Though Mayor Bloomberg was adamant that the public school calendar remain the way it is, De Blasio has previously voiced support for giving kids the day off on the Lunar New Year, as well as on Muslim holy days Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The State Assembly backed him up in a vote. "New York City is truly a melting pot of different religions and cultures and its citizens should be allowed to embrace and celebrate their holidays,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in a statement. “Last week, many of my neighbors and community members celebrated Lunar New Year and were left with the choice of spending the holiday with family or attending school. This legislation would allow the city to give these students the option to fully celebrate their holiday without worrying about being marked absent from school, missing a test or falling behind on their homework.”
Before the new calendar becomes official, however, the State Senate will have to vote on the legislation; the bill already has support from State Senators like Daniel Squadron and Jeff Klein. "Senator Klein believes New York schools should recognize the cultural and religious significance of holidays like the Lunar New Year and looks forward to reviewing the legislation," spokeswoman Anna Durrett told Gothamist in a statement.
Not all religious holidays will be afforded a day-off treatment, however; de Blasio says he still hasn't decided whether Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, warrants a day off from school, despite a push from advocates to consider the holiday.