By Mohamed Alim Hassim
QUEENS, NEW YORK — On Wednesday, October 18th, Caribbean-American Hindus joined thousands across the country in celebrating Diwali, one of the major religious holidays in the community. Hindu students in New York City were forced to take the day off from school to participate in the festivities. Over the years Hindu groups have been lobbying the city to have Diwali designated as a public school holiday, so that students would not have to miss school to observe the occasion.
But, according to New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, the number of students who will benefit from the holiday is not large enough, compared to other religious observances which are under consideration for public school holidays, on a school calendar, which the mayor said, is already “very tightly packed.”
The mayor was responding to a question from community advocate, Richard David, at a town hall meeting hosted by the Mayor, and State Senator James Sanders, at the August Martin High School in South East Queens on Monday, October 16th. The town hall was organized to address issues in District 28, which include the Richmond Hill-Ozone Park area, home to a large number of Guyanese, Trinidadians and other Caribbean immigrants.
David asked the Mayor, “What is the criteria you’ve set for Diwali to become a public school holiday and could it become a public school holiday in your second term?”
In response the Mayor said, “This issue came up four years ago and I had many, many friends in the community who raised the concern. I said my challenge was trying to accommodate some big holidays that have not yet been accommodated while managing the school calendar which has been a challenge because it is very tightly packed.”
He continued, “We had a struggle getting the Eid holiday and the Lunar New Year accommodated. Its an excellent question… I think the criteria is first and foremost about the number of children served. And the latest data I’ve seen shows, of course there is a substantial number of kids who celebrate Diwali, but not numerically as much at all as the other holidays that we are addressing. So I think the question really is what is the number of kids that we serve and how do we, in some way, manage the school calendar.”
The Mayor added, “Right now it feels like we have gone as far as we can go, so I cannot commit to it, going forward.”
However, de Blasio noted, “I am certainly going to keep an open mind on it and if the number of kids who would be served goes up that would be very important.”
SEE MORE ON THE MAYOR’S TOWN HALL MEETING IN THIS WEEKEND’S EDITION OF THE WEST INDIAN