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

by Chris Fuchs /

More than 40 elected officials, advocacy groups and community leaders sent an open letter last week to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying that his administration had not kept a promise to meet before the end of May to discuss whether Asian Lunar New Year could be added as a holiday to the public school calendar.

“We had a follow-up meeting in which the door was open both for the 2015-2016 and beyond, and an agreement that that conversation would continue and would do so this spring in May,” New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Democrat whose district includes Chinatown, told NBC News. “That hasn’t happened.”

In March, the city added two Muslim holidays -- Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr -- to the 2015-2016 school calendar but not Asian Lunar New Year, which is considered one of the most important holidays in Asian culture. Roughly one in eight New Yorkers -- and one in six New York City public school children -- is Asian.

On Tuesday, the New York State Senate unanimously passed legislation that could make Asian Lunar New Year a school holiday in all New York school districts of cities with at least one million residents whose Asian population is at least 7.5 percent. That bill has been handed to the state Assembly's Committee on Education for review.

In an email to NBC News, Wiley Norvell, de Blasio’s deputy press secretary, said that the city was still conducting its analysis to see whether Asian Lunar New Year could be added to future school calendars.

“We have identified years ahead that would prove problematic, and are working to identify alternatives that enable us to add Lunar New Year and maintain the legally mandated number of school days,” he said.

Norvell, however, did not comment in a follow-up email asking whether there was an agreement, as Squadron noted, that the mayor's office was to present the findings of an analysis to elected officials before the end of May. “We look forward to working with all the officials and sharing our work-up when complete,” Norvell wrote.

Image: 84427508
Young girls try to catch confetti during Chinese New Year celebrations in New York's Chinatown district on January 26, 2009.TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP/Getty Images

Last week’s open letter follows one sent by New York’s congressional delegation in March, expressing concern that students would not have off next year for Asian Lunar New Year. In 2016, the holiday falls on February 8, a Monday and a regular school day. Many Asian parents keep their children home for Asian Lunar New Year, which results in an excused absence on a student’s permanent record.

Norvell told NBC News in March that it was unclear when Asian Lunar New Year would become a school holiday, but said that it wouldn’t happen for the 2015-2016 calendar. “The mayor has never promised it by a certain time, although we have certainly promised to do it," he said.

Squadron, one of the elected officials who signed last week’s letter to the mayor, said he was disappointed by the lack of “engagement” from the mayor’s office.

“We still would like to have the conversation and understanding on 2015-16,” he said, “acknowledging that at this point in the year, it’s important not to do anything disruptive, but that for parents who were expecting that this would happen, it’s also disruptive for it not to be a holiday.”

Image: Annual Chinese New Year Parade Held In Manhattan's Chinatown
Young children watch the Chinese New Year parade in Manhattan's Chinatown on February 22, 2015 in New York City.Bryan Thomas / Getty Images
MORE FROM news