Home North Brunswick Sentinel NB News Diwali non-holiday still an issue for North Brunswick students

Diwali non-holiday still an issue for North Brunswick students

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Diwali non-holiday still an issue for North Brunswick students
People make their way along the grounds of Heritage Day held at Babbage Park in North Brunswick on September 29. The annual event included rides, games, entertainment and vendors from throughout the area.

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — Although Diwali will not be added to the list of school holidays in North Brunswick, a group of students said they will not stop their campaign to have the Indian holiday officially recognized by school officials.

Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski said the request was denied because of the limited amount of time available each school year.

“We have the utmost respect for all holidays, but if we do all the holidays to show respect, we’d never be in school,” he said.

Zychowski said he receives multiple requests each year, such as for Veterans Day, Columbus Day, the lunar New Year and Eid. Although these are among more than 200 holidays recognized by the state, meaning students are not penalized for their absence from school, the district cannot close school for every such day.

“We wouldn’t be able to honor all of them,” he said. “If we don’t give a holiday, it doesn’t mean we’re being disrespectful.”

Zychowski explained that although the winter and spring breaks usually encompass Christian and Jewish holidays, in 2015 Hanukkah fell outside of winter break and next month, Passover is not within spring break.

He did clarify that the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days off in September because of a staffing issue.

“We have issues with manning the schools because of the preponderance of Jewish staff who take the days off,” he said, just as with the teachers convention week in November. “We close the schools because we know there wouldn’t be enough subs to run the schools.”

However, a compromise was reached regarding Diwali, with the Board of Education issuing a directive prohibiting graded assignments from being due the Monday following Diwali, which falls on a Sunday this year.

“Although this was a fair compromise, we have already hinted to the superintendent that we will be furthering our campaign efforts,” Maithreyi Ravula said on behalf of fellow students Suraj Sanyal, Sahil Shah, Sairam Vinjamuri, Swathi Tata and Rashi Bhatt. “We are currently looking at a new campaign to make Diwali a half day in schools, which would allow students to prepare for the evening holiday, yet count as a day of school.”

Zychowski said the students are already allowed to miss the entire day of school as an excused absence without facing the burden of missed homework or assignments.

Originally, the North Brunswick Township High School students had presented a petition with 100 signatures to support the “festival of lights” that is celebrated by four religions of South Asia to the Board of Education in December.

According to Maithrevi, as of June 2014, the Asian population of North Brunswick was the second highest demographic of the township, numbering more than a quarter of the town’s population.

“Under the current excused absence policy, the hundreds of people who wish to celebrate Diwali are forced to miss school on their own time and are punished by falling behind on classwork, assessments and lessons,” Maithrevi had said in December.

“The creation of a school holiday would not only solve this problem, but will be a gesture of basic respect that townships such as Passaic and South Brunswick have done since 2005 and 2011 [respectively]. If these townships and many others that observe the same 180 school days requirement can fit in a single day of respect for an overwhelming population of their communities, then it is surely not impossible for North Brunswick, a community lauded as the leader of diversity, to do the same. The time is now to take a stand and make North Brunswick a home to all of its citizens — advocate to make Diwali a holiday in our school district.”

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.