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Petition, Parents Ask that Diwali Be Added to School Calendar

Parents and students ask that the Indian "Festival of Lights" be given a day off in the school calendar under consideration for 2014-15.

Monday night's meeting was attended by dozens of residents from Bernards Township's Indian-American community, who asked that the festival of Diwali, an annual holiday that falls each October to November be added as a day off from school in a future calendar.

"Diwali is important to Indians, and all of the Indian community," said Deepak Kapadia, a parent who presented the school board with a petition asking that the district recognize Diwali on an upcoming school calendar for 2014-15.

Schools Superintendent Valerie Goger on Tuesday said the petition was received with 78 signatures.

Kapadia said the Indian community in Basking Ridge reflects the diversity not only of the town, but of a group of Americans who are rapidly being assimilated into the "national tapestry."

On a practical level, other parents and students said it was hard to enjoy the holiday when they must worry about preparing for tests the next day, or bringing students to school early to participate in other activities.

Diwali is a festival that celebrates family and culture, said Saniya Waghray, a recent graduate of

"It's easy to forget that when you have a test, two projects" and other assignments due the next day, Waghray said.

Students technically can obtain an excused absence for a religious holiday, but Waghray and others said that doesn't really reduce the workload to allow them to concentrate on their holiday.

The school board approved the calendar as proposed on Monday, even while promising to take a look at the proposal in January.

Goger said in an email on Tuesday that the board's policy committee will consider the request in January, and may report back to the full board for further discussion in late January or February.

Board member Mike Byrne said he does not believe in adding any religious holidays to the calendar. He said he had proposed removing Good Friday as a day off from school in previous years, but had been opposed by district teachers.

Byrne said the school year ends late enough in June as it is.

The board is required to adopt school calendars three years out. The 2014-15 school calendar, as it stands, would set the first day of school for students on Sept. 4, 2014, and the last day on June 24, 2015. Diwali would fall on Oct. 23 in 2014, according to information brought to the meeting by board member Priti Shah.

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