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Lunar New Year Added to New York Public School Calendar

Image: New York City Chinese Annual Lunar New Year Parade

Performers dance at the annual Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in New York's Chinatown on Feb. 22. PETER FOLEY / EPA

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday morning that Asian Lunar New Year, considered one of the most important holidays in Asian culture, would become an official public school holiday, a reversal from just a few months ago when the mayor’s office had said it would not be added to next year’s calendar.

“The mayor's pledge and today's addition of Lunar New Year to the school calendar send a strong and meaningful message that as the city changes, the school calendar must change with it,” New York state Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Democrat whose district includes Chinatown, told NBC News in an email.

The mayor’s office first made the announcement on Twitter Monday evening, saying it “was working toward a more inclusive city.” The tweet also appeared in traditional Chinese characters and in Korean.

Lunar New Year festivities wrap up with lanterns

Among those ecstatic about the news was Korean American Parents Association of Greater New York Co-President Christine Colligan, who with dozens of community leaders and elected officials, including Squadron and City Councilmember Margaret Chin, had pressed the city to include Asian Lunar New Year as a school holiday.

“It was a long battle, endlessly trying for a long time,” Colligan told NBC News.

De Blasio’s decision to add Asian Lunar New Year to the school calendar came amid mounting pressure from local, state and federally elected officials, as well as community leaders, who were upset that his administration made two Muslim holy days -- Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr -- official holidays, but not Asian Lunar New Year.

Related: Groups Push to Add Lunar New Year to New York School Calendar

Citing concerns over being able to fulfill the number of state mandated days of instruction, de Blasio’s office had said in March that Asian Lunar New Year would not become a school holiday next year, but added that “we do expect to get there” in the future.

Earlier this month, as elected officials accused the mayor of not keeping a promise to meet to present the findings of an analysis on whether Asian Lunar New Year could be added to the school calendar, the state Senate passed its own bill that would have made Asian Lunar New Year an official school holiday.

Related: Muslim Holidays Added to New York Public School Calendar

For New Yorkers, of whom roughlyone in eight are Asian, the mayor’s announcement Tuesday was a welcome relief. When Asian Lunar New Year falls on a weekday, as it does next year, many Asian parents take their children out of school, which results in an excused absence on their attendance record. In a public school system in which one in six students is Asian, absentee rates on Asian Lunar New Year could be as high as 80 percent in some schools, Squadron said.

But beginning next year, that will be a moot point.

“This is great not only for Asian Americans but for all students, because understanding Asian culture is a great benefit for the whole community,” Colligan said.

Image: New York City Chinese Annual Lunar New Year Parade
Young Chinese-American boys hold the U.S. flag during the annual Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in New York's Chinatown on Feb. 22. PETER FOLEY / EPA