New bill from AM Rajkumar clears way for Adams to make Diwali a city public school holiday

Rajkumar, Adams
Mayor Eric Adams, Assembly Member Jennifer Rajkumar and DOE Chancellor David Banks announce state legislation that will allow the city to make Diwali a public school holiday. Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022.
Photo courtesy of Mayor Eric Adams’ Office

Eric Adams was dubbed the Hindu Mayor by Queens Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar Thursday for his plant-based diet, daily meditation practices and – most importantly – for finally setting the process in motion to make Diwali a public school holiday.

The pair, joined by city Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor David Banks, announced Thursday morning that Rajkumar is set to introduce a bill in Albany’s lower chamber that would remove Anniversary Day – commonly known as Brooklyn-Queens Day – from the public school calendar. That would clear the way for Diwali – the Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhists “festival of lights” – to be added to the public school calendar by the DOE.

“South Asian and Indo-Caribbean families like mine, all over the city, have made incredible contributions and today, I’m proud to say, our time has come,” Rajkumar said. “The time has come to recognize over 200,000 New Yorkers of the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain faiths who celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights. That is why today I stand with New York City Mayor Eric Adams and our Schools Chancellor David Banks to light the way forward to make Diwali once and for all, a school holiday in the city of New York.”

The measure currently doesn’t have a sponsor in the state Senate, a necessary part of getting legislation passed in Albany.

Rajkumar’s legislation is necessary, she said, because state education law mandates that the school calendar contain at least 180 days, which doesn’t allow room for adding an additional new school holiday without removing one that’s already on the calendar. Because Anniversary Day – a holiday established in 1829 to celebrate the founding of the first Sunday school in Brooklyn and Queens – is an antiquated holiday that no longer bears the broad cultural and religious significance as Diwali, she added, it was the perfect day to put on the chopping block.

“If we’re going to meet this 180-day minimum requirement, we cannot Institute any more holidays,” Rajkumar said. “But in removing the antiquated Anniversary Day school holiday that is observed by no one, my legislation makes the room for Diwali to be a school holiday, while also meeting the 180 day minimum requirement for days of school instruction.”

Adams – who, as mayor-elect last year, vowed to make Diwali a school holiday as soon as he took office on Jan. 1 – said the city has already made the Asian Lunar New Year and Muslim holidays of Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha school holidays, so it’s time to do the same with Diwali.

“We’ve done it with Eid, we’ve done it with Lunar New Year’s, we do it with so many other days and so many other cultures that we acknowledge it is long overdue to say to our Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist students and communities that ‘we see you we acknowledge you,’” the mayor said. “The inclusiveness of the city is extremely significant and this is our opportunity to say that in a loud way.”

According to a press report, advocates had previously blamed the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) – the public school teacher’s union – for stalling negotiations on making Diwali a school holiday, but the union said it hadn’t taken a position on the issue.

“We want all our students to feel that their traditions and cultures are recognized,” a UFT spokesperson told PoliticsNY in a statement. “Now the Legislature has to find a way to fit a new holiday into the existing school year”

Banks said making Diwali a school holiday is also an opportunity to teach public school children from other faiths and cultures about Diwali and its significance to so many communities in the city.

“It’s important not only for the young people who celebrate and who honor Diwali, but it’s important for all students,” Banks said. “When we talk about the education of New York City students, we have to recognize the whole world lives here. It’s the reason why this is the greatest city in the world, because the whole world actually lives here. And they all go to school here. And it is important that we honor and we recognize all of our young people.”

This story was updated to include a statement from the UFT at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022.