By Alicia Venter | [email protected]
As of June 10, Diwali is a public school holiday in New York City.
A bill passed by the state legislature officially adds Diwali to the list of days that public school students will not have to attend school, effective July 1.
The legislation (A-7769) was introduced by State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar — who represents parts of Glendale, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood and Woodhaven — in October 2022, with New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Department of Education Chancellor David Banks offering public support for the legislation.
“Nothing can stop a community whose time has come,” Rajkumar said in a press release. “People said this would be impossible but we made it happen. To everyone who believed in the power of the possible—whether in the legislature, the streets of Queens, or all around the world, this victory is yours.”
Diwali is a sacred holiday for over 200,000 Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist New Yorkers. Celebrating good over evil, and light over darkness, the holiday falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Indian calendar in each year, as is the beginning of the fiscal year in the country as well.
In the Gregorian calendar, that typically falls in November — this year, it will be on Sunday, Nov. 12.
“If approved by Governor Hochul, New York’s growing South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities will now have the same recognition and accommodation afforded to those that observe other holidays,” said State Senator Joe Addabbo, who was the bill’s senate sponsor, in a press release. “I admire the significance of Diwali, to show how light can overpower darkness, good can overcome evil, a message celebrating positivity and encouragement.”
When initially announced, Rajkumar stated that in order to adhere to the mandate in State Education Law Section 3604, which requires a minimum of 180 days of school instruction, that “Anniversary Day” should be removed from the public school calendar.
Anniversary Day, described as an “antiquated holiday” by Rajkumar in an October 2022 press conference, recognizes the founding of the first Sunday school in Brooklyn in the 1800s, with state law requiring that Brooklyn and Queens schools close on this day.
According to the amended state education law passed by the state legislature, both Anniversary Day and Diwali stand as public school holidays. There were no public school holidays removed from the calendar, as of publication.
“It is long overdue to say to our Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist students and communities that, we see you, we acknowledge you,” said Mayor Adams in a press release. “The inclusiveness of this city is extremely significant and this is our opportunity to say that in a loud way.”
As this legislation was inked, other Queens elected officials were staunchly working to promote similar legislation. Flushing congresswoman Grace Meng announced her introduction of legislation to make Diwali a federal holiday on May 26 via Zoom. If passed, the Diwali Day Act will give public school students across the nation the day off from school.
“A federal holiday for Diwali would give millions of families the time deserved to celebrate together, as well as educate others about the history and significance of this auspicious day,” said Meng during the virtual press conference.