CHINATOWN — New York City students could soon get some extra days off school for holidays, including Lunar New Year or Eid al-Fitr, thanks to legislation that is up for a vote in the state Assembly Monday.
The bill would require the city's Department of Education to consider whether individual schools or districts should shut down during cultural or religious celebrations, if student attendance has been low on that holiday in the past.
"Tomorrow [Lunar New Year] will be a day of empty classrooms in Chinatown because many families have made the understandable decision to honor this holiday by keeping their children home and enjoying celebrations throughout the community," State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the bill's co-sponsor, said at a Thursday press conference.
"There is no reason these children should be marked absent for observing a holiday that is of deep importance to them."
While similar state bills have been proposed several times and never passed, those behind this legislation believe Mayor Bill de Blasio's support for additional school holidays could finally push it forward.
About 14 percent of the city's public school students are Asian, and schools such as P.S. 130 in Chinatown have seen absence rates of 80 percent on the Lunar New Year, Silver said.
During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio promised to add two Muslim holidays to the city's school calendar: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. This week he also voiced support for a Lunar New Year day off for public school students.
"The prior administration [of Michael Bloomberg] was strongly opposed to this...and it had an impact in the state Senate," said State Sen. Daniel Squadron, of why similar bills never passed.
New York State's Education Department requires students to attend a minimum of 180 days each school year. The proposed legislation doesn't outline where classroom time would be made up for additional days off.
"They always build in more days and snow days or cold days," Silver said of a possible solution.
New school holidays can be declared by either the City Council and mayor or by the state, officials said.
The city's school calendar currently recognizes major Christian and Jewish holidays like Christmas and Yom Kippur, along with other days important to America's history and culture.
"We’re examining the possibility of making [the Lunar New Year] a holiday for future school calendars," said Marge Feinberg, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Education.