Diwali should be a day off in North Brunswick

I would like to commend the students of North Brunswick Township High School for trying to add Diwali to the list of holidays celebrated by the school system (“Diwali non-holiday still an issue for North Brunswick students,” North & South Brunswick Sentinel, March 17).
As a parent of three children in North Brunswick Township schools, and a family that celebrates both Hindu and Christian holidays, it has always been a struggle to show my children the importance of Diwali. The kids get an entire week off during Christmas and don’t even get one day off for Diwali, which is equally important. Last year, Diwali fell on Veterans Day and still our township refused to give the day off. All of the afterschool activities were also in session.
The response from school faculty was that children would not be penalized for missing school. Unfortunately, things don’t quite work that way. The actual school day proceeds normally and the children miss all instruction received if they choose to stay home because everything at school is “business as usual.” Yes, the kids might get excused from homework or not get marked absent, but most of these kids want to be in school if school is in session. How, as parents, are we supposed to tell our children that it’s okay to miss school on a regularly scheduled day when every other day we encourage them to attend?
The article “Diwali non-holiday issue” clearly states that in the 180-day school calendar year, surely one day can be allotted to the most sacred day on the Hindu calender. With the Southeast Asian population dominating our schools and growing every day, I would like to ask [Superintendent of Schools] Dr. [Brian] Zychowski, what it would take to reconsider?  Perhaps a meeting with our principals and parents who could echo the sentiment that this day would really benefit many children. Our sister town of South Brunswick has acknowledged Diwali as a holiday since 2011. Towns such as Glen Rock have added Diwali to their school calendars since last year because they saw an overwhelming number of students celebrating this day. Since the date for Diwali changes every year, some years a day off would not even be necessary, like 2016 when Diwali falls on a Sunday.
When I was a young girl growing up in New York, we always had Columbus Day off from school. At some point schools decided that celebrating someone who accidentally discovered a continent and enslaved its people wasn’t a reason to miss school and have a day off. Now how about taking into consideration a holiday celebrated by many in our own community and showing respect by allowing its members to properly celebrate with a day off from school?
Again, I would like to commend the high school students who have taken the lead on this. Perhaps 100 signatures was not enough to make a difference but I am pretty sure we can get a whole lot more from the members of our community. Together, we can allow this act to serve as a step toward acknowledging the town’s shifting demographics and endorsing mindful religious acceptance.


C. James

North Brunswick