February 5, 2014

NYC public schools to close for Muslim, Lunar New Year holidays

Muslim families in New York City have been requesting official recognition for Islamic holidays in public schools for years now, but they may finally see some changes under new Mayor Bill de Blasio.

February 5, 2014
Jennifer Dust

Mayor de Blasio said Monday that he is wanting to move forward with closing schools for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, two Muslim holy days and for Lunar New Year. But he was hesitant regarding the Hindu festival Diwali.

Appearing on WNYC's "Brian Lehrer Show" on Monday, the mayor said he hasn't taken a position on whether Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated in India and other South Asian countries, should be a day off from school.

"It's complicated in terms of logistics and school calendar and budget. But it's something I want to get done in a reasonable time frame," he said.

The hit to taxpayers would be in the millions of dollars for each day, since school personnel would still have to be paid. Officials would also have to scramble to rearrange the school calendar to meet minimum state attendance requirements. The state mandates at least 180 days of classes per academic year. The city schedules 182 or 183, depending on the year, leaving not much leeway.

New York Daily News had reported the now newly elected Mayor de Blasio saying, "The origins of this nation (are) people of many different faiths coming together … That's why we have to respect Muslim faiths by providing the Eid school holidays for children in our school system,"

Ethnic communities have pushed for all four holidays to be recognized. Former Mayor Bloomberg opposed the change, saying kids should not miss more school.

Currently, there are 14 official school holidays. If the Lunar New Year and the Muslim holidays Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are added, the number would jump to 17. The city has the power to add school holidays on its own, without the approval of Albany.

The shutdowns would impact 1.1 million students, their parents and 135,000 school employees.

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