The Board of Education of Millburn Township Public Schools (MTPS) in New Jersey, in a meeting on October 9, reportedly unanimously approved to declare the Hindu festival of Diwali a holiday, in 2018.
The Board recognizes the importance of finding a way to include on the school calendar days off for students that coincide with Lunar New Year and Diwali.
The Board is reportedly scheduled to consider the draft calendar for 2018-2019 at its meeting on October 23, which shows schools closed on November 7, the date when the most popular Hindu festival of Diwali falls in 2018.
Some Hindus have commended the Board’s decision, terming it as a step in the positive direction.
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada, urged the MTPS Board to unanimously approve this Diwali day-off for students, included in the 2018-2019 calendar draft, when it meets on October 23. Board should respect the feelings of Hindus, who had been pushing for Diwali holiday in MTPS for many years, he said, in a press release.
Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, indicated that the Hindu community felt left out in New Jersey as despite fast changing state demographics and continuing growth of Hindu populations, only three public school districts had reportedly declared holiday for students on October 19, the date on which Diwali fell this year.
For 2017 in New Jersey, Glen Rock Public Schools has announced closure of schools and offices on Diwali; in West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, schools will be closed on October 19; and in Piscataway Township Schools, there is “No School for Students” on Diwali.
In neighboring New York, six school districts have declared holiday for students on October 19, which include: East Meadow School District, East Williston Union Free School District, Half Hollow Hills Central School District, Herricks Union Free School District, Hicksville Union Free School District and Syosset Central School District. Another Mineola Union Free School District announced that no homework or examinations would be given on Diwali, reports add.
In Pennsylvania, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District headquartered in Kennett Square approved closure of schools on Diwali; while Harvard Public Schools in Massachusetts has declared October 19 as “early release day”, reports note.
Zed suggested that all other 674 public school districts and private-charter-independent schools in New Jersey should seriously look into declaring Diwali as an official holiday, thus recognizing the intersection of spirituality and education. Zed noted that awareness about other religions thus created by such holidays like Diwali would make New Jersey students well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow.
Zed pointed out that it would be a positive thing to do in view of presence of a substantial number of Hindu students at schools around the state, as it was important to meet the religious and spiritual needs of these pupils.
Zed stated that it was not fair with Hindu pupils and their families as they had to attend school on their most popular festival while many schools in the state were closed on holy days of some other communities. This unfairness did not send a good signal to the impressionable minds of schoolchildren who would be the leaders of tomorrow; Zed said and added that New Jersey schools needed to urgently revisit their policies on this issue.
Zed further said that since it was important for Hindu families to celebrate Diwali day together at home with their children.
“We did not want our children to be deprived of any privileges at the school because of thus resulting absences on this day. Closing schools on Diwali would ensure that and it would be a step in the right direction,” he said.
Zed also urged New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey State Board of Education President Arcelio Aponte and New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington to work towards adding Diwali as an official holiday in all the public school districts in the state, and persuading the private-charter-independent schools to follow.
Zed stresses that Hinduism is rich in festivals and religious festivals are very dear and sacred to Hindus. Diwali, the festival of lights, aims at dispelling the darkness and lighting up the lives and symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Hinduism is oldest and third largest religion of the world with about 1.1 billion adherents. There are about three million Hindus in USA.
MTPS, known for academic excellence whose 99% of graduating seniors reportedly attend four-year colleges, has about 5,000 pupils. Emily Jaffe and Dr. Christine Burton are Board President and Superintendent, respectively.