Celebrated by people all over the world, Diwali is the most important holiday for the over 1 billion Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs that celebrate the holiday. Although most people believe that Diwali is a one day festival, it is actually a 5 day holiday. Based on the Lunar calendar, the date of Diwali changes each year, always falling on the darkest time of the year. Over this 5 day festival, families celebrate with diyas or small clay lanterns, celebrating good over evil, light over dark. Even though each day holds importance, the most important day is the 3rd. On this day families are busy with poojas (prayer) and visiting family and friends. This year on November 4th, students at Wheatley got a chance to celebrate this day at home, filled with family, food, fireworks, and of course prayer.
In our school, November 4th was dedicated to both Diwali and to Superintendent’s Conference Day (where teachers are still required to go to work). Thus, some students were given piles of work, regardless of the holiday in session. Irritated by repeatedly reminding teachers about the holiday, some students reached out to Dr. Feeney about these issues. Agreeing that this issue was important, Dr. Feeney sent out an email to the staff reminding them of Diwali two days before the festival. Although the Hindu students celebrating this festival appreciated Dr. Feeney’s help, they wondered why there wasn’t an email sent out earlier. Why were students required to remind teachers and administrators about this festival? If teachers were aware of festivals such as Rosh Hashanah, why weren’t they aware of Diwali? Further inspection into the situation revealed that the culprit was our school calendar. Officially, our school calendar has marked November 4, 2021 as “Superintendent’s Conference Day (Staff Only) SCHOOLS CLOSED (for Students).” Since there was no mention of Diwali on the calendar, teachers simply assumed that students had an extra day for work and studying.
Another concern that students had was that teachers were still required to come to school on Superintendent’s Conference Day. The 2021-2022 Whatley calendar only has two Superintendent’s Conference Days, August 30th and November 4th. Teachers are not required to work on Eid, Lunar New Year, or Christmas, yet teachers that celebrate Diwali are not able to spend the whole day with their families.
Outside of Wheatley, getting Diwali recognized as an official holiday on the school calendar has been a struggle. In 2015 former Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that New York City public schools would be receiving Lunar New Year and Eid as school holidays. Although a win for the Asian community, he also mentioned that he would not be adding any other holidays to the calendar because of the 180 school days requirement set by New York State. However, critics claimed that the school calendar currently has 185 days, meaning there is enough space to add Diwali as a Holiday to the school calendar. Nonetheless, some progress has been made in officially recognizing Diwali as an official holiday. In 2014 Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Ron Kim and co-sponsored by State Senator Kevin Thomas, requiring individual school districts to close school on days students may be absent due to religious or cultural reasons. On the Federal level, Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi is co-sponsoring a piece of legislation to recognize Diwali as an official holiday.
In the future I hope that the students, teachers, and administrators work together to make Diwali an official holiday at Wheatley so that everyone is able to enjoy this day with their families.