'Respectful of different cultures': Iowa City school board adds day off for Asian Lunar New Year

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Li Na
    Li Na
    Chinese tennis player

The Iowa City school district has approved a day off to accommodate Lunar New Year for the next three years, a recognition of an important Asian holiday.

Lunar New Year is celebrated by various Asian cultures. It is also known as Spring Festival in China and Seollal in Korea, with some festivities lasting a week or longer, marking the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

During the Nov. 23 school board meeting, district officials approved the 2022-2023, 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 calendars. In each academic year, a day off in January was added to accommodate students and families that celebrate the Lunar New Year. The holiday begins around late January or early February, depending on the year.

Last April, the Iowa City school district approved two days off to accommodate Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday, and Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday. In the same month, the Iowa City Area Chinese Association created a petition asking the district to also recognize the Lunar New Year as a holiday.

From left, Matt Degner, superintendent of the Iowa City Community School District, and board members, Maka Pilcher-Hayek, Charlie Eastham, Lisa Williams, Shawn Eyestone, president of the board, Ruthina Malone, vice president of the board, J.P. Claussen and Jayne Finch listen during a meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at the district's Educational Services Center (ESC) at 1725 North Dodge Street in Iowa City, Iowa.
From left, Matt Degner, superintendent of the Iowa City Community School District, and board members, Maka Pilcher-Hayek, Charlie Eastham, Lisa Williams, Shawn Eyestone, president of the board, Ruthina Malone, vice president of the board, J.P. Claussen and Jayne Finch listen during a meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at the district's Educational Services Center (ESC) at 1725 North Dodge Street in Iowa City, Iowa.

Nina Na Li and Weijing Wu, on behalf of the Iowa City Area Chinese Association, said in an email to the Press-Citizen that the petition received 1,369 signatures.

To make room for the three new holidays, the school year will be extended into early June.

The Iowa City Area Chinese Association’s petition said the group “applaud” the school district’s recognition of Eid al-Fitr and Yom Kippur but was “alarmed” that there was no holiday representing the Asian community or ways for it to participate in decision-making.

“Therefore, we feel the urge to request that the Board consider recognizing Lunar New Year as a school district holiday so that our large Asian American student population can celebrate this holiday with their family, and their classmates can know more about the biggest Asian holiday,” the petition said.

The petition also stated that the rise in anti-Asian sentiments in the past year contributed to an urgent need for the school district to “take action to honor Asian heritage.”

According to U.S. Census data, 6.5% of people in Johnson County identify as Asian, and 7.3% in Iowa City.

Li and Wu said that the Lunar New Year is the "single most important holiday" for ethnic Chinese around the world. While families in the U.S. have embraced American holidays, many continue the tradition of the Lunar New Year, they said.

But a big piece missing from the holiday joy, Li and Wu said, is that children often weren't around to partake in the festivities.

"With that day off, the Chinese families can really enjoy the day together, help the kids stay connected with some of the cultural roots and even spread the joy to others by inviting friends and families," they said.

In an interview with the Press-Citizen, school board member J.P. Claussen said that providing a day off around the Lunar New Year holiday is one example of how the district is trying to be more inclusive and responsive to the increase in diversity in the county.

Claussen said there is much other work the district has to do regarding systemic racism and creating a culture shift, but the addition of the Lunar New Year holiday was one of the simplest things it could do to be more inclusive.

“On one hand, it's symbolic. But on the other hand, for families who celebrate these holidays, it's not symbolic at all. It's just very practical and allows them to celebrate their culture in a way that doesn't interfere with their education,” Claussen said. “And I think, to me, that's just respectful of different cultures. And that's what we're attempting to do.”

In the previous 2022-2023 calendar, which was approved in November 2020, the final day of classes was on May 31. In the newly approved calendar, the school year has been extended by three days, so students’ final day of classes won’t be until June 6.

School districts in San Francisco and New York City have already added a day for students to have off for the Lunar New Year. More locally, Des Moines Public Schools’ is considering the same step.

According to the Des Moines Register, Des Moines Public Schools’ officials asked the public’s input on the 2022-2023 district school year calendar through a survey, including the addition of Yom Kippur, Eid al-Fitr and the Chinese Lunar New Year. Feedback from the survey and a draft of the proposed 2022-2023 district calendar was posted to the school district’s website, but the calendar has not been voted on.

Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach her at PBarraza@press-citizen.com or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.

This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Iowa City school board approves day off for Lunar New Year holiday

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting