After local activists spoke in favor of South High School senior Devi Arjune’s petition to have Diwali added to the school calendar, the Board of Education decided it would dissuade teachers from assigning homework and tests on the holiday.
According to Superintendent Bill Heidenreich, the nine members of the board spoke about the matter in November and decided within a few minutes that, “this would be a nice thing to do.”
Diwali, or Deepavali, is a five-day celebration commemorating the Hindu new year. The main day of the festival falls on the third day, the darkest night of the Hindu lunar month. On that day, families gather for a prayer to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi and have a feast, clean and decorate their house to let the gods in, and light diyas — or oil lamps — to bring light to the darkest night of the month.
Heidenreich said that the board decided not to give students the day off from school because attendance rates were high at all four Central High School District schools on the holiday in years passed. In 2017, for example, about 96 percent of students attended the high school district on Diwali.
Last year, members of all four Valley Stream school districts voted against adding Diwali to the school calendars due to those high attendance rates. But, at that joint boards meeting, District 13 Trustee Vinny Pandit said that attendance rates should not be the only criterion for adding a school holiday. He said that many Hindi families feel obligated to send their children to school on that day, but when they do so, they do not have time to perform many of the traditions associated with the holiday.
In November, Arjune, who goes by Abby, also told the Central High School District Board of Education that attending school on the holiday could ruin an observer’s mood. She shared a story about Diwali in 2015, when she was excited to celebrate the holiday, but realized that she had to take an Earth Science examination and give a presentation in her English class. “By fifth period, I felt so stressed that I couldn’t even think straight,” she said. “It was only mid-day and my jubilant attitude changed to an anxious mood.”
Arjune said that she is grateful that the board agreed to do away with homework and tests on Diwali to “make the day less strenuous for students.” But, she said, she will continue to push for Diwali’s inclusion on the school calendar.