NYS assembly passes bill to make Diwali a public school holiday

New York: New York State lawmakers on June 11 passed a bill that would make Diwali — a festival of lights and one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs — a public school holiday. The legislation now relies on Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign it into law.

Lawmakers approved the bill in both the state Assembly and Senate, which was first introduced by Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, who represents South Queens. The legislation aims to make room for Diwali in the public school calendar.

The approval comes months after Mayor Eric Adams held an event with Schools Chancellor David Banks and Rajkumar in October, calling for the state legislature to officially make Diwali a public school holiday.

Speaker Carl Heastie, Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar, and Asian Pacific American Task Force Co-Chairs Grace Lee and Zohran K. Mamdani announced the passage of legislation declaring Diwali as a school holiday in New York City public schools requiring students to celebrate the day with their families.

“New York City is a rich and diverse area, filled with students who need time to celebrate and honor their families’ traditions,” said Speaker Heastie. “I’m honored the Assembly was able to pass this piece of legislation giving a new generation of children the time to spend with their families and honor traditions.”

“This is a historic moment, as our government recognizes hundreds of thousands of South Asian New Yorkers of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain faiths. Nothing can stop a community whose time has come. As the first Indian-American woman elected to a New York State office, I will always fight for every emerging community to be heard,” said Assemblymember Rajkumar.

“The passage of this bill is a true demonstration of what can happen when lawmakers accurately represent the community they represent,” said Assemblymember Lee. “We’re so lucky to have a historic number of Asian American assembly members serving our community and working together to ensure our Pan-Asian communities have a voice in this chamber and across the state.”

State Senator Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Woodhaven), the bill’s Senate sponsor, said, “I am thankful for my colleagues in the Senate who supported the passage of my bill designating Diwali a school holiday in New York City before the Senate legislative session ended.”

“For too long, too many children across New York City have celebrated Diwali while being forced to choose between their faith and their future. I am incredibly excited to announce a new chapter in our city’s history with the passage of this legislation,” said Assemblymember Mamdani.

However, New York City cannot add another school holiday to the current calendar, unless it removes another day off. This is because New York State education law mandates there be a minimum of 180 days of school instruction. The legislation, Rajkumar said, would remove Anniversary Day, also known as Brooklyn-Queens Day, which originated as a Protestant holiday celebrated in the 1800s.

If the legislation takes effect on July 1, it likely won’t affect the 2023-2024 public school calendar for New York City, as Diwali falls on a Sunday.

The New York State Legislature’s approval of these two measures is a wonderful reminder and celebration of the great diversity that exists in our state, and underscores how this diversity should be reflected in the holidays observed by our residents.”

– Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), and First Vice Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus

Thank you @NYCMayor for elevating our community and for your unrelenting support of my legislation to make Diwali a School Holiday in New York City! This week, my bill passed, forever enshrining the Diwali School Holiday into law! We did it.

– Jenifer Rajkumar, Assemblymember (D-Woodhaven)

Images courtesy of Gulte, Democrats.org and Twitter

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