Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar and New York City Mayor Eric Adams have announced a city-state partnership to designate Diwali as a public school holiday in New York City.
Diwali is one of the major holidays celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. According to a press release from Rajkumar, an estimated 200,000 New Yorkers celebrate Diwali. Diwali is next Monday, Oct. 24.
Community activists have campaigned for Diwali to be recognized as a school holiday for 20 years. Unlike other religious holidays — like Christmas, for example — New Yorkers who celebrate the holiday would have to do so at the expense of missing school or work.
Rajkumar, who is the first Hindu American and first South Asian woman elected to New York State Office, has been working with Adams for months to develop a strategy to make Diwali a school holiday.
Adams said in a statement to the press that he has been a supporter of designating Diwali as a school holiday since his days as a borough president in Brooklyn.
“Our public school calendar is not just a list of days off; it is a testament to New York City’s diversity, inclusiveness, and character,” Adams said.
“That is why, as borough president and now as mayor, I’ve pushed to make our schools not only academically astute but emotionally intelligent as well. I am proud to partner with Assemblymember Rajkumar to announce my full-fledged support in adding Diwali to the holidays on our Department of Education calendar. By calling for Diwali to be marked as a public school holiday, we are celebrating our fellow New Yorkers’ traditions and the tradition of inclusiveness in the city we call home.”
New York City Department of Education Chancellor David Banks — who is a Brooklynite — said it is important to make Diwali a school holiday in order to support New Yorkers who celebrate the major holiday.
“Supporting the effort to make Diwali an official public school holiday is an acknowledgment of the way our city has grown and evolved, and it’s time for our commemorations to catch up,” Banks said.
“The diversity of our city is what makes us powerful, and it’s an honor to stand in support of the members of our community who are Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist to show how much we value their heritage.”
Assemblymember Rajkumar’s Proposed Bill
In order for Diwali to become a school holiday, an already established holiday on the school calendar would need to be removed.
The new bill Rajkumar has introduced would remove one holiday to make room for Diwali. The school holiday that the bill proposes removing is Anniversary Day.
Anniversary Day, alternatively known as Brooklyn-Queens Day, is an antiquated holiday that recognizes the founding of the first Brooklyn sunday school back in the 1800s.
Schools in Brooklyn and Queens are required by state law to close on Anniversary Day. The city ultimately decided to close all schools on this day, and it has been a school holiday ever since.
Assemblymember Rajkumar proposed that Anniversary Day be removed in favor of Diwali, since Anniversary Day bears little religious or cultural significance in today’s day and age, according to her press release.
For the 2023-2024 school year, Diwali — which will take place on Nov. 12 next year — will be an official school holiday.