Community members and advocates for the Chinese community spoke out this week against the city Department of Education’s decision to not designate Lunar New Year as a holiday on the current school calendar.
Lunar New Year, which this year falls on Sunday, Jan. 22, was not listed as a holiday nor assigned as a day off on the following Monday.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio designated Lunar New Year a public school holiday in 2015.
At a City Council hearing on Thursday, elected officials lobbying to make Lunar New Year an official city holiday said the DOE’s decision was cause for concern among some New Yorkers.
“We have to correct this,” Council member Chris Marte, whose district includes Chinatown, said at the Immigration and Cultural Affairs joint committee hearing on Thursday. “This caused widespread frustration and confusion among residents and students.”
Marte is sponsoring a resolution that would honor Lunar New Year as an annual school holiday and an official city holiday. That would mean, like other city holidays, schools and city workers would receive the Monday off if the day falls on a weekend.
“Lunar New Year is one of the most important annual celebrations in many East and Southeast Asian cultures, and every year, almost 1.5 million residents from across New York City celebrate to honor their Asian heritage,” Marte said.
Lunar New Year has been listed as a day off on school calendars since 2015 with the exception of 2020, when it also fell on a Sunday, according to the Department of Education.
The Department of Education historically does not observe non-federal holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Veteran’s Day and Eid, when they fall on the weekend, according to a DOE official.
“Adding Lunar New Year as an observed school holiday during the week this year would require schools to observe all 12 of our non-federal holidays as school holidays when they occur on weekends, making it difficult to reach the state-required minimum of 180 school days,” a DOE spokesperson said in a statement.
Students who don't attend school on Monday because of Lunar New Year will have an excused absence that won't affect their records, according to the DOE official.
Advocates, though, said the issue is bigger than just getting a day off.
“It’s a day to be able to be somewhere where we have the rights and freedoms to protect our culture and continue protecting our religions,” another person testified.
Parents testified to the confusion their children had this year and said they had a difficult time trying to explain the situation.
“They were wondering, ‘Dad, what happened? How come they're not recognizing Lunar New Year this year?’” Raymond Chang, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, said about his 9- and 10-year-old children.
The mayor’s office works with Asian community leaders to celebrate and observe the holiday by offering lessons on its cultural significance and organizing school celebrations, officials said.
Council member Sandra Ung is also sponsoring a resolution that calls on the federal government to pass legislation introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, who represents Queens, that would establish Lunar New Year Day as a federal holiday.
There is currently no scheduled committee vote on the two resolutions.