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Valley Stream South senior asks schools to add Diwali to their calendars

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For the past two years, Devi Arjune has been petitioning the Valley Stream Central High School District Board of Education to add Diwali to the school calendar — she has collected more than 2,000 online and 60 print signatures for her petition, and has garnered support from Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky. On June 13, she continued her efforts by speaking to members of all four Valley Stream Boards of Education.

“Let’s put the unity in community,” Arjune, a graduating South High School senior told the boards that night, “and consider thoughtfully the benefits of making Diwali an official holiday on our school calendars.”

Diwali 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 hold a feast, clean and decorate their house to let the gods in, and light diyas —which are traditional oil lamps — to bring light to the darkest night of the month.

Without a day off to perform all of those ceremonies, however, Arjune said, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains could not properly celebrate the holiday. She said those students, who make up almost 20 percent of each of the three elementary school districts’ student bodies, should not be penalized for missing assignments that day, and added that including the holiday to the calendars would send “a compelling message to the Generation Z kids that we, the minorities, value or culture and religious aspects” and would encourage other students to “learn about the holiday and the culture behind it.”

But school boards must decide whether to cancel classes for a particular holiday not based on the religious significance of the holiday, but rather based on the number of students or teachers who would be absent on that day, District 30 Board President Kenneth Cummings explained. “It isn’t based on religion,” he said, “it’s based on the ability to conduct school business.”

He also said that the boards could consider eliminating tests or homework on Diwali, as Arjune had previously suggested, but would need to speak to members of the Valley Stream Teachers Association about the proposal.

District 13 Trustee Bill Stris also said the point was moot because Diwali will fall on the weekend for the next two years. But Devi’s father, Richard, disagreed, saying Diwali should be treated as a federal holiday if it falls on the weekend, and as such, students should have the following day off from school.

The boards then went into a closed-door meeting to discuss the proposal, and Devi will receive a letter with their decision on the matter.