Diwali becomes NYC public school holiday

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NEW YORK — Diwali is the newest day off from the NYC public schools, but education officials will have to make adjustments to accommodate another holiday in an already packed school calendar.

Dibya Talukder, who spoke at a press conference Monday at City Hall to celebrate the passage of a state bill making Diwali a holiday, said she could not take off Diwali when she was a student in Queens.

“If I did take off, I would miss class and I would fall behind in my school work,” said Talukder, now a sophomore at Cornell University.

“But from today onward, Diwali is now a day off,” she added. “All the Hindu children now get to feel like they belong.”

Diwali will become the latest in a series of holiday added to the school calendar, including Lunar New Year and Eid. Public schools spokesman Nathaniel Styer said the district will be able to meet the statutory requirement to provide 180 days of instruction by using professional development days in addition to instructional days.

The requirement for schools are to provide 180 days of instruction led Mayor Eric Adams and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, D-Queens, the bill’s sponsor, to suggest replacing the little-known Brooklyn-Queens Day with the more widely celebrated festival of lights.

But the proposed legislation was amended at the end of this year’s session to safeguard the obscure school holiday.

“Our school calendar must reflect the new reality on the ground,” Adams said at a press conference Monday at City Hall to celebrate its passage, “and cannot reflect the absence of those who are not being acknowledged — and we do it within the restraints of having a calendar that we must respect by law, and we will continue to do so.”

Brooklyn-Queens Day, formally known as Anniversary Day and commemorates the anniversary of the first Protestant Sunday school in Brooklyn, has been celebrated on the first Thursday in June for decades.

“It’s less about the fact that schools will be closed in recognition of Diwali,” said Schools Chancellor David Banks. “It is more about the fact that minds will be opened because of what we are going to teach them about Diwali.”

Education officials will have at least a year to finalize the scheduling challenges, as both Diwali and the Lunar New Year fall on weekends next school year.

The bill now moves onto the governor for her signature, and Adams said he expects Gov. Hochul to sign it.

“It is to be enshrined in law, Diwali at last will be a holiday in our great city,” said Rajkumar. “So today we say to all of our 600,000 Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain Americans across New York City, we see you.”

By Monday afternoon, education officials had released an updated calendar for next year, as well as the following two school years — a seismic shift for parents who have struggled in recent years to plan for the fall, as they wait for confirmation of the first day of school and key days off.

After years of releasing the school calendar in March, the school system has posted its schedule in April or even the last few days of May since 2018, according to a recent analysis by the education nonprofit news source Chalkbeat.

Diwali was scheduled as days off in the 2024-25 and 2025-26 school years.

Next year, students and teachers will have a few additional days off restored to the calendar the Monday after Easter and the last two days of Passover, as agreed to during contract negotiations between the city and United Federation of Teachers.

The Department of Education previously removed those vacation days that usually overlap with spring break from the 2023-24 school calendar, causing an uproar among rank-and-file union members.