Gravesend

Brooklyn pols join fight for Lunar New Year school holiday

June 19, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Democratic District Leader Nancy Tong and Assemblymember William Colton are pushing the Department of Education to close public schools for the Lunar New Year holiday. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas

With the growth of the Asian-American population in New York City over the past several years, the school system has seen a sharp rise in the number of Asian-American students, according to Southwest Brooklyn elected officials and political leaders, who said Asians now account for 15 percent of the student population.

The numbers are even more striking in communities like Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights and Sunset Park, where Asian-American students comprise over 50 percent of the school population. 

That’s why the city should close public schools on the Lunar New Year and allow Asian-American youngsters to celebrate the holiday at home with their families, the elected officials said.

Assemblymember William Colton and council members Mark Treyger and David Greenfield are urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to call on the New York City Department of Education to add the Lunar New Year as an official school holiday during which public schools would be closed.

They are the latest elected officials to add their voices to the effort to win official city recognition for the holiday. State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-North Brooklyn) has been advocating for several months for schools to be closed on the Lunar New Year.

Squadron, Assemblymember Ron Kim, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng and Councilmember Margaret Chin recently came together to urge de Blasio to add Lunar New Year as a school holiday.

A letter signed by more than 40 elected officials and community advocates asked de Blasio to meet with the group to discuss the results of a Department of Education analysis of the city’s student body and to keep a campaign pledge he made to include Lunar New Year.      

“You made a pledge, both before your election and after becoming mayor, to add Lunar New Year to the school calendar as a holiday,” the letter reads. “As your policy stands today, children must miss class when celebrating their most important cultural celebration.”

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In March, the entire New York City congressional delegation sent a letter to de Blasio urging him to order public schools closed on Lunar New Year.

Public schools are currently open during the Lunar New Year, but school districts with high numbers of Asian-American students often have absentee rates as high as 80 percent on the holiday, the lawmakers said.

The effort to get the city to close the schools on Lunar New Year has the support of political leader Nancy Tong, an Asian-American who serves as the Democratic district leader of the 47th Assembly District.

“This issue is about being inclusive of the Asian-American community and giving this community the respect that it deserves,” Tong said. “It’s not fair to parents and their school children to have them choose between celebrating their cultural heritage and attending school.”

Earlier this year, de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that two Arab-American holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, would be added to the school holiday calendar.

Colton and Treyger, who are both former public school teachers, sent a letter to de Blasio asking him to add the Lunar New Year to the school calendar as an official holiday. Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Midwood-Bensonhurst) has also stated his support for the effort.

The Lunar New Year celebrates the start of the New Year on the Asian calendar and marks the coming of spring, the harvest season. This year, Lunar New Year, which was designated as the Year of the Sheep under the Chinese Zodiac, was celebrated on Feb. 19. In 2016, Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 8. It will be the Year of the Monkey.

“With over 15 percent of the city’s school children being of Asian descent, and in many neighborhoods the Asian-American population being over 50 percent, it is wrong to force families to choose whether to celebrate a family tradition or being marked absent from school,” Colton (Gravesend-Bensonhurst) said.

Treyger (D-Coney Island-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) said having the schools open on Lunar New Year poses serious challenges for schools.

“Furthermore, with so many Asian-American students already taking off for the Lunar New Year, schools face a challenging task in administering instruction. Asian-American students who want to have good attendance records and who are diligent students should be allowed to celebrate this important cultural holiday with their families without being penalized,” he said.

***UPDATED***

Article was updated to include state Sen. Squadron’s role in the effort to have schools closed on the Lunar New Year.

 

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