Designate Diwali a Staff Development Day for Irvine Unified School District
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Esteemed Irvine School Board Members and Superintendent,
We’re writing to you to respectfully request that Diwali, an important holiday for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs, be designated a Staff Development Day for Irvine ISD so that students can stay home with their families and celebrate the festival. Based on the Hindu lunar calendar, Diwali is on Nov 7th (for 2018) and on Oct 27th (for 2019).
Asian students account for almost 50% of total students in Irvine School District -- South Asian, Indian, and Hindu making up a large majority (although the exact number of Hindus is not made available by any US Census, as religion is not a demographic criterion for the process). When Diwali comes around each year, often times on a weekday, too many students are faced with a difficult decision -- observe this religious holiday and risk missing important school work and activities, or forego their observance altogether because the curricular cost is simply too much. While schools are not required to close on a particular religious holiday, there is a matter of administrative convenience given a large number of students that would likely be absent on Diwali. For instance, schools are closed on Good Friday as a "Weather Day."
Even if a child wishes to observe the holiday, their families, known to emphasize education as a top priority, hesitate. At best, too many families squeeze in a rushed celebration -- fit in between the end of after-school activities, homework, studying, and bedtime.
Diwali is a time for renewal and reminds celebrants about the inherent goodness of life. People clean, renovate, and decorate their homes and offices ahead of the holiday, which traditionally is five days. On the main day, the day of Diwali, people light diyas (earthen lamps) inside and outside their homes and participate in family or community puja (rituals). After the puja, fireworks follow, and friends and family often gather, hold feasts, and an exchange of gifts. Diwali also marks a time for charity, as well as a major shopping period in nations where it is celebrated. While Diwali is usually known as a "North Indian" festival, people of Southern and North-Eastern India also celebrate it in various forms.
Aside from the well-being of Irvine ISD students and families, there are several other factors that we believe Board Members and the Superintendent should consider:
1. A number of school districts across the US have adopted Diwali (with Eid and Chinese New Year) as an official school holiday (as "professional development" or "weather" day). The number of students who would benefit from Diwali being an official school holiday in Irvine ISD is actually significantly greater than in many of the districts listed below.
East Meadow School District, East Williston Union Free School District, Half Hollow Hills Central School District, Herricks Union Free School District, Hicksville Union Free School District, and Syosset Central School District
Glen Rock School District, West Windsor-Plainsboro School District, Piscataway School District, Passaic City School District, Edison Township, and South Brunswick School District
Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (PA), Harvard Public Schools (MA), and Howard County District (MD)
2. In 2016, Diwali was commemorated for the first time at the United Nations in NYC. The White House has been celebrating Diwali for nearly a decade -- a tradition that was started by President George W. Bush and continued by President Obama and President Trump.
3. The United States Postal Service (USPS) issued a first-ever Diwali postage stamp on October 5, 2016. It’s since become one of the best-selling stamps in the history of USPS. Canada issued another stamp on Sept 30, 2017.
4. Diwali is celebrated around the world, particularly in countries with significant populations of four cultures: Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. These include Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bhutan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean nations. Diwali is also celebrated in the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States.
Diwali is a well-known and widely celebrated holiday. We respectfully request that the Irvine ISD Board take the lead in embracing and recognizing the culture of a large number of its students. We strongly believe that such a designation by Irvine ISD will go a long way in demonstrating the commitment of our educators to the well-being of our diverse students and families.
We thank you in advance for your due consideration.
Students and Parents of Irvine ISD
Organizations and Temples Supporting the Petition:
Sanatana Dharma Foundation
Hindu Mahasabha of America
Hindu Congress of America
Nying Je Ling --Universal Compassion Buddhist Congregation
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