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Lunar New Year, Muslim Holidays Won't Be Added to School Calendar This Year

By Amy Zimmer | April 18, 2014 9:09am | Updated on April 18, 2014 11:19am
 Dragons march on Mott Street during the Lunar New Year Parade on Feb. 2, 2014.
Dragons march on Mott Street during the Lunar New Year Parade on Feb. 2, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Tom Liddy

MANHATTAN — Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to add two Muslim holidays, plus the Lunar New Year, as official days off from school on the city's calendar — but those changes won't take effect for the upcoming school year, officials said this week.

The Department of Education's 2014-2015 school calendar, which was recently released, includes the same set of federal holidays and vacations, including the Jewish New Year, mid-winter recess and spring recess, as years past.

The Chinese Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr (which marks the end of the monthlong fasting period of Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (which is known as the Feast of the Sacrifice) did not officially make it onto the list of school holidays for the coming year, an Education Department spokeswoman said.

But these holidays happen to fall on days that are already off next year. Eid al-Fitr falls on Monday, July 28, when most students do not have to attend school unless they are in summer school. Summer school students won't have the day off, officials said.

Eid al-Adha falls on the weekend, from Saturday October 4 - Sunday October 5, and the celebration for Lunar New Year, which changes year-to-year, takes place Thurs. Feb 19, which happens to coincide with mid-winter recess.

“Thankfully, this upcoming school year, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Lunar New Year all fall on already scheduled breaks or over the weekend, so families will not have to make the tough choice between observing the holidays or attending school," DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said.

The education department was actively assessing its options for making the holidays an official part of the calendar for the 2015-2016 school year, she added.

"We are committed to having a school calendar that reflects and honors the extraordinary diversity of our students,” Kaye said. “Adding new holidays to the calendar is a goal that poses some logistical challenges. We are actively working toward overcoming them in the years ahead."

The school calendar — which runs from Sept. 4 — the first Thursday after Labor Day — through Friday June 26 — has been the subject of much contention, with a growing number of advocates and politicians calling for the three holidays to be added.

With roughly 14 percent of the city's public school students being Asian, for instance, schools such as Chinatown’s P.S. 130 have seen 80 percent of its students absent on the Lunar New Year, politicians have noted.  Because of this, state Sen. Daniel Squadron, who represents the area, has been pushing to make Lunar New Year a school holiday for several years, and the idea has gained momentum since de Blasio took office.

De Blasio picked up the torch for Muslim holidays as well as the Lunar New Year, which he promoted as viable school holidays both during his campaign as well as following his election.

His office did not immediately return calls for comment about the new calendar. But he has hinted in the past that it might not happen right away.

"I've said repeatedly, it will take time,” de Blasio said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show in January. “It is complicated in terms of logistics and the school calendar and budget, but it's something I want to get done in a reasonable time frame.”

A bill is winding its way through Albany that would require school districts to consider closing individual schools or districts during cultural or religious celebrations, if student attendance has been low on that holiday in the past. It passed the state Assembly and the state Senate’s education committee.

De Blasio doesn’t need Albany’s blessing. He could make the changes at the city level, experts noted, and the mayor has said he plans to add the three holidays.

De Blasio has not said which holidays would be removed from the calendar in order for the school year to reach its state-mandated 180-day minimum.  The DOE usually schedules 182 or 183 days per year, which doesn't allow much wiggle room for the new holidays.