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Lunar New Year: How NYC schools are celebrating the holiday

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Stuart Ramson/HO

(Read caption) In this handout photo from Explore Chinatown, children watch a Chinese lion dance during the Lunar New Year celebration, in New York's Chinatown. Jan 29, 2006.

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New York City public schools are wishing students a happy Lunar New Year by officially recognizing it as a holiday. Kids and their families will be able to celebrate with a day off school.

In a city where one in eight residents is of Asian descent, according to the US Census, Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean American parents for years have had to choose between celebrating the most important Asian holiday with their children or maintaining their attendance records.

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According to New York state senator Daniel Squadron, whose constituency includes residents of Chinatown, the number of Asian Americans in the public school system is higher even than the city total – one in six students are of Asian descent. And on Asian Lunar New Year, the absentee rate at some schools could be as high as 80 percent.

But for some parents, missing a day of school is still hard to justify, despite school policies that allow students to receive an excused absence for religious and cultural observations.

There was no way our parents would let us skip school,” New York Rep. Grace Meng (D) of Queens said at a press conference this summer. Ms. Meng proposed making Lunar New Year a school holiday for the first time when she was in the New York state legislature.

“No one wants their kid to have an extra absence on their record,” she added.

So, as Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in June, all New York City school students will have the upcoming Monday off to ring in the Year of the Monkey. 

“We pledged to families we would keep working until we made Lunar New Year an official school holiday, and today we are keeping that promise,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We are proud to be the largest school district in the nation to recognize the heritage of our Asian-American community by recognizing Lunar New Year.”

His decision to add Lunar New Year to the list of school holidays came three months after his inclusion of two Muslim holy days – Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr – to the school calendar. Local and state lawmakers were upset that the Asian festival wasn’t on that list.

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While New York City is now the biggest school district to include Lunar New Year as a school-recognized holiday, it’s not the only one. Maryland’s Howard County voted unanimously in January to include it on the school calendar, in addition to Eid al-Adha, the Hindu holiday of Diwali, and two Jewish holy days

San Francisco and Tenafly, N.J., which is home to a large Korean American population, also mark Lunar New Year as a school holiday.

“[We] are setting a high bar for inclusiveness for the rest of the country,” City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña told the New York Daily News. She added that the city schools have also developed a Lunar New Year curriculum supplement for students and families to learn about the holiday.