New York City Adds Lunar New Year as School Holiday


New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that the Lunar New Year will be added to the New York public school calendar.  The move will allow Asian families in the district to celebrate the holiday without being marked absent for the occasion.

De Blasio had pledged to include the holiday in his 2013 mayoral campaign, but was rushed to make the move now as a pending bill in Albany would add the holiday to the calendar.  Had he not moved on adding the holiday first, he would have faced potential political embarrassment as the State Legislature would have enacted his campaign pledge for him, writes Elizabeth Harris for The New York Times.  If passed, that bill would take effect in the 2017-18 school year.

“Finally, students of Asian descent will not be forced to choose between observing the most important holiday of the year and missing important academic work,” Councilwoman Margaret Chin, a Democrat of Lower Manhattan, said in a statement. “Lunar New Year is a deeply important cultural observance for nearly 15 percent of public school students, and this designation gives Lunar New Year the respect and recognition it has long deserved.”

The decision is not the first time this year that de Blasio has added an additional holiday to the calendar.  Earlier this year, the two holiest days in Islam, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha, became the first religious additions since the Jewish High Holy Days were added in 1960.  Former mayor Michael Bloomberg had chosen not to add the holidays, arguing that students needed more time in school.

Schools in New York State are required to operate for at least 180 days each year.  In order to ensure schools are still in session for the minimum number of required days, the de Blasio administration announced plans to change two half-days into full school days.  The new schedule is set to take effect this coming school year with the holiday falling on February 8, 2016.

The Asian holiday regularly falls on a school day, causing almost 15% of the city’s school system to call in sick that day in order to celebrate with their families.

“It’s a big deal,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, whose district includes Manhattan’s Chinatown. “Families have had to choose between their most important cultural celebration, and missing a day of school.”

Assemblyman Ron Kim added that the move held more importance than merely adding an additional day off from school.  He said adding the holiday acknowledged the Asian culture as a part of American society, which will help future students to understand that Asian-Americans are Americans, too.