Herricks, East Williston eye new school holidays

The Herricks school district is looking to add four Hindu, Muslim and Chinese holidays to the school calendar, a move supported by many students and parents.

But a discussion at Thursday night’s school board meeting was just “the first stage” of a process that contains many steps, said Fino Celano, the district’s superintendent.

“The discussion will continue,” said Nancy Feinstein, the school board president. “We have some hurdles to overcome.”

The district wants to designate the Chinese Lunar New Year, Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, and the Muslim holidays of Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha official school holidays, as other districts in Nassau County and the New York City schools have, Celano said.

The discussion started a few years ago when the board noted demographic shifts in the district, said Nancy Feinstein, the school board president. 

She said “it’s just a matter of time” until the holidays can be added. 

School districts throughout the North Shore have seen populations of minority students increase between 2005 and 2015, state Education Department data shows.

Herricks has seen the biggest change in student demographics.

Students of Asian descent account for about 57 percent of the student body, up from 45 percent in 2005-06. 

Over the same period, the white student population decreased to 35 percent from 50 percent.

The four holidays in question are reckoned by the lunar calendar; their corresponding dates on the Gregorian calendar vary from year-to-year.

The school board faces several constraints in adding holidays, either because of the district’s teachers union contract or state regulations, Celano said.

For example, he said, the state Education Department mandates 180 days of instruction that have to fit between Sept. 1 and the week of Regents exams, typically held during the third week of June.

Schools cannot be open on federal holidays and five consecutive days off must be given during spring and winter breaks. 

Calendar modifications would also depend on the schedule of the state Regents exams, Feinstein said.

Parents on Thursday spoke highly of the quality and ethnic diversity of Herricks schools. 

Some said their children are often torn between wanting to celebrate the holidays with family and the fear of falling behind if they miss school. 

Students representing the South Asian Student Alliance at Herricks High School presented to the board a petition with 522 students’ signatures supporting the inclusion of the holidays on the calendar.

One parent said, “home life and school life are needed for success. A family should not have to chose between school and family values.”

Celano said he hopes a revised district calendar can be drafted by January.

The East Williston school district is also considering adding three new holidays to next year’s school calendar after an initial discussion last year about adding the Lunar New Year, district Superintendent Elaine Kanas said.

Asian students represented 19 percent of the student body in the 2015-16 school year, up from 7 percent in 2005-06, state data shows.

Mark Kamberg, the East Williston school board president, said calendar discussions are happening in many other districts.

“I think school districts across Long Island are taking a look at their demographics and taking a look at their calendar-building process,” Kamberg said.

By Samuel Glasser and Noah Manskar

About the author

The Island Now

Share this Article