HICKSVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — New York is a diverse melting pot and now there’s a push to make school calendars look that way, too.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff found out Wednesday, a bill being considered in Albany could add religious holidays to the academic year.
Wednesday prayers at a Sihk temple in Hicksville draw a crowd, while down the road a Hindu temple is also thriving. Long Island’s growing South Asian population has prompted a new look at school calendars to more fairly reflect their diversity.
“It’s only appropriate and fair to extend a holiday like Diwali or Eid or Vaisakhi to people from the South Asian community,” said state Sen. Kevin Thomas, D-Garden City. “These are like Christmas and New Year.”
Thomas, New York’s first senator of Indian descent, is sponsoring a bill to give districts the ability to close on six additional religious holidays — two Islamic, two Hindu, one Sikh and Christian Good Friday. New York City schools already close on the Lunar New Year and Islamic Eid al-Fitr.
Some Long Island schools added Diwali.
“Diwali is the festival of light and happiness also. This is the most important Hindu holiday,” said Pipai Mani, the priest at Asamai Hindu Temple in Hicksville.
The bill allows school closure when at least 7.5 percent of student population is of that faith.
“Everyone is entitled to their own religion and this way it would show no discrimination from one to the other,” one person said.
Parents often make hard choices between faith and education. Many said they would welcome the change.
“So they can enjoy and know their culture. It’s very hard to keep up with your family tradition,” Smithtown resident Amita Tank said.
There is at least one voice of opposition. Nick Fish, the president of the American Atheists, called the goal admirable, but added, “Trying to program breaks around every conceivable religious holiday is not workable. Picking and choosing with an artificial limit is discriminatory and unequal.”
New York state education officials say there is nothing in current law that prevents such a move as long as children attend the required 180 days.
Under Thomas’ bill, no current holidays would be eliminated if the population is under 7.5 percent in a district.