If Bernards Township schools follow through on a request by parents and students from the Indian-American community to add the start of the festival Diwali as a day off on a future school calendar, we would certainly be in the vanguard in New Jersey.
Of course, recognizing a holiday that is important to a number of our residents also would reflect the growing diversity of this community.
Among other aspects, the "Festival of Lights" as celebrated by various sects of Asians worldwide, calls for time spent at gatherings, cooking and other family and culture-oriented traditions.
At the school board meeting on Monday, Ridge High School graduate Saniya Waghray said it is hard to concentrate and give full time to the holiday for students who know they have a test the next day and other requirements in a busy school schedule. Although students may take an excused absence for any religious holiday, the supporters of the proposal said that only puts off school responsibilities for another day. Those students also would likely need to check up on what they missed during their absence.
Census figures from 2010, released by the U.S. census bureau, put the number of Asians in Bernards Township at a population of 3,679, including 1,345 residents classified as Asian-Indian. The number of Asian-Indians grew from 701 ten years earlier, according to census figures.
Meanwhile, township officials and its local demographer have said that the feel the township's total counted census population of 26,652 is undercounted as a whole, and that a number of Asian residents were among those missed in the count.
So it would certainly be a step forward for Bernards to recognize those residents — but, on the other hand, as board member Mike Byrne mentioned the other night, how long can you make the school year?
The Board of Education works three years ahead, and on Monday approved a school calendar for 2014-15. That calendar sets a first day of school for students as Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, and a last day on Wednesday, June 24, to meet state requirements for school days.
The calendar was approved by the board on Monday — when a petition signed by 78 people who requested that Diwali be added as an official holiday. However, school officials said it still can be revised.
Schools superintendent Valerie Goger said in an email on Tuesday that the board's policy committee will look at the request about Diwali in January, and the subject then could come before the full board early next year for further consideration.
Some school districts — including the neighboring Somerset Hills Regional School District — do manage to include longer weekends at several points during the year, (but not Diwalii) by rescheduling in a different manner. The weeklong February vacation we have here becomes a long weekend spread over President's Day in February. And spring break is scheduled around Easter and Passover, instead of having a separate three-day weekend on Easter, as we have in Bernards.
Do we want to look at a revision of how we schedule breaks? Would anyone want to give up three full weeks off during the school year (barring an excess of snow days that would be taken off the April holiday)? By the way, when we moved into the school district in 1998-99, the Martin Luther King holiday was not recognized with a day off from school. Do we need to re-examine whether those holidays should be recognized with a day off, or in some other way?
Do you think it would be a good idea to add Diwali to the school calendar? If so, would you change the calendar in some other way? What do you think? Please let us know in the comments section below.
PS. In my older son's school in Oyster Bay, Long Island, each year children in the elementary schools held parties for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, which fairly accurately represented the makeup of the community. His attitude was, "The more the merrier," as far as parties. But I felt it provided a cultural education that has remained with him as he progressed out into the wider world. What's your opinion there?