As Scarsdale High School students continue to advocate and petition for additional holiday time off during the school year to reflect changing demographics in ethnicity and religion, interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Drew Patrick was finally able to offer students hope that the district is taking their concerns seriously and showing its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Patrick discussed it in a meeting with students prior to the Monday, Dec. 5 board of education meeting, mentioned it in his opening comments that night and reiterated it after three students spoke during public comment, saying the administration will make a presentation about the school calendar at the Dec. 19 board meeting. The presentation, he said, will show sample calendars going back and ahead five years with and without additional holidays to see what options exist. There would then be plenty of time for discussion before the administration makes its final recommendation for the 2023-24 school calendar on Feb. 13, 2023.
“I appreciate the request to include Diwali, Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and understand why such observances are important to our students and families,” Patrick said in his opening remarks Dec. 5. “As I have expressed to all who have written and spoken publicly about this topic, the calendar development process is complex in that there are many coinciding pressures. However, we have begun to explore the potential for including these holidays by looking back five years and forward five years and seeing what the impact school closures on these observances would potentially have.”
The presentation Monday, Dec. 19 will include any “trade-offs that might be considered in the decision-making process.”
Student Samina Malik led off public comment, addressing the board publicly for the second time this school year. She presented the board with a petition signed by more than 200 Scarsdale families in support of “adding multicultural holidays” to the school calendar.
She also did a 10-year study of when Diwali, Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha occur going forward noting which ones fall on weekends or might fall on other days off and would not require an extra day off.
Malik referenced an April 19, 1974 Scarsdale Inquirer article where Jewish residents were requesting holidays “to reflect the changing community,” according to Malik.
“Almost 50 years later, over 150 Muslim students in our schools are asking for similar consideration,” she said. “We shouldn’t be asked to choose between our faith and our education.”
The same goes for Asian and Hindu students. Junior Sajiv Mehta, who began at Edgewood Elementary School in third grade, also spoke during public comment.
“The [Diwali] celebrations in my home were relegated to only a short prayer session,” Mehta said. “As I’ve gotten older and my workload has increased the duration of this prayer session has gone down from an hour to just around 20 minutes. While it is true that teachers were discouraged from giving much work this year in the Diwali, I still had tests in the next days and work coming up that I could not ignore. The stress of balancing my homework, tests and celebrating was too much, which meant that I had to sacrifice the integrity of the holiday or of my work.”
Mehta cited New York State Department of Education data that 23% of Scarsdale students are of Asian descent and said New York City Public Schools and other districts have found a way to add these important family-centric holidays.
Sophomore Daniel Hu was born in China and lived there for seven years. He called Lunar New Year a “global celebration.”
“Even though I was really young back then I can still vividly remember my friends passing out red envelopes and the joy we would have while opening them,” he said. “Walking across the neighborhood back then, the two things that caught my eye the most were brightly lit red lanterns and the upside down character of good fortune put on everyone’s doors. The upside down part was to symbolize the arrival of good fortune since upside down is a homonym for arrival in Chinese …”
While Hu didn’t expect the same type of grandiose celebration in the U.S., he still “just wanted to spend time with my family and close relatives,” which is “missing for a lot of Chinese students here in Scarsdale” with homework and studies that take them “into the night.”
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