Will the Lunar New Year Become a School Holiday?

People wait for the annual Lunar New Year parade to begin at Manhattan Chinatown. (Younjoo Sang/NYCityLens)

People wait for the annual Lunar New Year parade to begin at Manhattan Chinatown. (Younjoo Sang/NYCityLens)

The Lunar New Year, celebrated by multiple Asian cultures, fell on a school day this year—Friday, January 31—and voices calling to make the day an official school holiday grew more insistent.

Among the many New York City politicians who have backed the idea: City Council members Paul Vallone and Peter Koo; U.S. Rep. Grace Meng; State Assemblymen Ron Kim and Ed Braunstein; and State Sens. Dan Squadron and Toby Anne Stavisky.

Not to mention the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, and the new city council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, both of whom voiced their approval at a rally in Flushing, Queens, on January 24. The mayor, however, also pointed out, earlier in January, that such a change will take time and effort, and has “logistical dynamics, the state law dynamics and budgetary dynamics.”

Although it usually falls in January or February, the date of the Lunar New Year differs every year, since it follows the lunar calendar. Public schools with a high Asian-American enrollment are known to have high absence rates during the New Year, a time when many people want to stay home with their families.

NYCityLens called several public schools with high Asian-American enrollment, but they all declined to comment about attendance. (Some city high schools closed on January 31 this year anyway, due to Regents week falling in the same time period).

At the Lunar New Year parade on Sunday in Manhattan’s Chinatown, there was no shortage of comments, and enthusiasm for a new holiday.

Lunar New Year as an official day off school? “Of course!” said Sandy Tan, 24.

Tan lives in Brooklyn and works in finance, but she said when she was in high school, many Chinese students stayed home during Lunar New Year. “The teachers, they don’t even take attendance on that day,” she said.

Shuyu Hsu, 35, who came to see parade with her four-year-old daughter, said her child went to school on Friday, but that she wanted future generation to respect their traditions. “I think if we respect our culture more, people will take the day off,” she said. “Kids will spend more time with family.”

Making the day a school holiday, supporters argue, would save students from suffering academic consequences for choosing to spend the holiday with their families.

The proposal is not a new one. Since 2009, Rep. Meng, a Democrat from the 6th District in Queens, has pushed for the Lunar New Year to become a school holiday for New York municipalities with at least 7.5 percent Asian American populations.

According to the 2010 Census, Asian-Americans make up 12.7 percent of New York City’s population. Lunar New Year has been designated as a school holiday in San Francisco and in Tenafly, New Jersey, where Asian populations are high.