Electeds introduce bill to make Diwali a public school holiday

Legislation has been introduced to the New York State Assembly for Diwali to become a public school holiday. This designation would constitute for school to be canceled for the celebration of Diwali.

Despite previous efforts not coming to fruition due to an inability for holidays to be added to the academic calendar, elected officials believe they have found a solution — remove ‘Anniversary Day’ as an academic holiday so room can be made for Diwali.

The bill for Diwali to become a public school holiday was introduced last week by Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, with support from Mayor Eric Adams and Department of Education Chancellor David Banks. They announced their partnership and support for this bill on Thursday, Oct. 20, at Tweed Courthouse on 52 Chambers Street in Manhattan.

“South Asian and Indo-Caribbean families like mine all over this city have made incredible contributions,” Rajkumar said. “Today, I am proud to say, our time has come.”

Diwali, one of the most sacred holidays for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, was celebrated this year on Oct. 24. It is observed on the 15th day of the 8th month in India’s calendar, and falls in either October or November of the Gregorian calendar used in the United States. Diwali is celebrated by an estimated 200,000 New Yorkers, with celebrations for the “Festival of Lights” held throughout the city.

Similar bills have been presented in the past — in 2021, Rajkumar introduced a bill to establish Diwali as a school holiday and it was introduced in the New York State Senate by Senator Kevin Thomas. In 2018, Councilman Danny Dromm introduced a resolution, wanting the Department of Education to establish an official Diwali holiday.

None of these attempts came to fruition, with claims that there were not enough days in the academic calendar to add another holiday. As mandated by State Education Law Section 3604, there must be a minimum of 180 days of school instruction.

Together, Rajkumar, Chancellor Banks and Adams were able to find a “surplus” — a day that can be used to celebrate Diwali “without our young people losing days of school in the process.” That day is Anniversary Day, also known as Brooklyn-Queens Day. 

Anniversary Day, termed an “antiquated holiday” by Rajkumar, recognizes the anniversary of the founding of the first Sunday school in Brooklyn in the 1800s. State law requires Brooklyn and Queens schools close on this day, and as a result the city closes all schools that day.

“There is no religious obligation or longstanding tradition compelling anyone to forgo school or work to observe the day. Given this lack of significance, Anniversary Day is an appropriate school holiday to rescind to accommodate designation of Diwali as a school holiday,” the bill reads.

“This is an educational moment,” Adams said. “When we acknowledge Diwali, we are going to encourage children to learn about what [Diwali is].”

“As [Chancellor Banks] has stated over and over again, education must be a place where we develop the full personhood of our children, not only to make them academically smart but emotionally intelligent,” he continued. “That intelligence comes from acknowledging and seeing each other.”

Community Board 9 — which represents Woodhaven, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill and Kew Gardens — and its chairperson Sherry Algredo have previously shown support for Diwali to become a public school holiday. When Rajkumar introduced the bill in 2021, Algredo, then first Vice Chair and an education chair, headed the passage of a resolution in the Community Board calling for Diwali to be recognized as a school holiday.

“It is a religious holiday,” Algredo told The Ledger on Oct. 20. “Just like everybody else, you would like to see it recognized.”

If passed, the bill would take effect on July 1, 2023. The assembly is set to reconvene in January 2023.

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” Rajkumar said, quoting Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress. “I have brought this bill to the table so that all South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers will have a seat at the table.”