Lunar New Year Becomes Official New York City School Holiday

Lunar New Year Becomes Official New York City School Holiday
Source: yewenyivia Flickr
Source: yewenyivia Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Tuesday that New York City will become the second major urban school district in the nation, after San Francisco, to close on Lunar New Year in the official school calendar.

In the upcoming 2015-16 school year, schools will close on February 8 for the Lunar New Year. New York City schools will maintain the legally mandated number of instructional days as part of this change to the calendar.

“We pledged to families we would keep working until we made Lunar New Year an official school holiday, and today we are keeping that promise,” said de Blasio. “We are proud to be the largest school district in the nation to recognize the heritage of our Asian-American community by recognizing Lunar New Year. We thank the legislators and community advocates who worked so hard to make this possible.”

When the mayor released the 2015-16 school calendar in March, it included two Muslim holidays — Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr — but not Lunar New Year, despite de Blasio’s earlier pledge to include the Asian holiday. Many Asian parents keep their children home for Lunar New Year, forcing students to miss a day of classes.

In 2012, the last time Lunar New Year fell on a school day, 62 city public schools saw their lowest attendance of the year. At these locations, at least a third off the population is Asian and roughly 15% of the student body — 146,434 children — missed school on that day. A large number of these schools, as WNYC has mapped below, are clustered in Southern Brooklyn.

In a letter to the mayor earlier this month, more than 40 elected officials, advocacy groups, and community leaders criticized the administration for failing to discuss the inclusion of the Lunar New Year into the school calendar in May as promised.

The Department of Education [DOE] claimed the holdup was figuring out how to fit the holiday into the school calendar for the long term, while still ensuring that the city can meet its commitment to educating students and meeting the State-mandated 180 days of instruction.

Ultimately, the DOE facilitated the addition of Lunar New Year by consolidating two half-days previously designated for staff administrative work — neither of which could count toward the 180-day minimum — into just a single full day. This allowed room for the insertion of the Lunar New Year without any net loss in school days.

“The addition of Lunar New Year to the public school calendar champions our continued commitment to respecting and honoring the extraordinary diversity of our students,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “This new addition is also a welcome teachable moment in the classroom for our students to learn about the contributions of various cultures. I appreciate the partnership of legislators and community leaders on this effort.”

Local politicians celebrated the city’s decision yesterday.

“It is important for government to encourage all families to celebrate important holidays together,” said Assemblyman William Colton, a former school teacher. “It was wrong to have Asian-American families choose between having their children being marked absent in school or celebrating their traditions. Now with public schools closed on Lunar New Year, families will be able to celebrate their heritage and traditions together on this significant holiday. With Lunar New Year an official school holiday, we have made a step in the right direction of being more inclusive of the traditions of all families in our city.”

Councilman Mark Treyger, also a former teacher, echoed the assemblyman’s sentiment.

“For Asian-American families, Lunar New Year is an important holiday that celebrates their heritage and traditions,” the councilman said. “As a child of immigrant parents, I understand the need to be inclusive of the diverse cultures of our great city. Making Lunar New Year an official school holiday will now ensure that parents do not have to choose between celebrating their Asian heritage with their children and their children’s learning time. Moreover, Asian-American students who are diligent students and want to have good attendance records will now be allowed to celebrate this important cultural holiday with their families without being penalized.”

State Senator Marty Golden, who cosponsored proposed legislation supporting Lunar New Year inclusion in city schools, commended the mayor’s decision in a statement Tuesday.

“Today, we can all agree that New York has fulfilled its promise to the Asian American community to make the Lunar New Year an official school holiday,” he said. “New York City students can now spend the Asian Lunar holiday with their families without the stress of missing school. I commend my colleagues and all the Asian business, civic and community groups that worked together to make this a reality. It is vitally important that we continue to work together to ensure our entire State remains culturally sensitive and promotes our ethnic diversity,”

Earlier this month, the New York State Senate passed a bill — sponsored by Golden and others — to make Lunar New Year a school holiday for New York City public schools, or in cities of more than 1 million with an Asian population of 7.5 percent or more. The bill cited 2014 legislation approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo directing school districts to determine whether school session should be held on days when it is likely that a considerable portion of the student population will be absent due to religious or cultural day observance.

New York City joins San Francisco, California, and Tenafly, New Jersey school districts, which close public schools on Lunar New Year.

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