The Hindu community is hoping that schools throughout California will take action to declare an official holiday on Diwali, one of the biggest Hindu festivals that aims to dispel darkness through light, before the next school year.
“If California schools stayed closed on other religious holidays, why not Diwali?” asked Hindu statesman and President of University Society of Hinduism Rajan Zed. “Holidays of all major religions should be honored and no one should be penalized for practicing their religion.”
Zed said that by recognizing Diwali as a school holiday, California schools would be taking a step in a positive direction as it helps Hindu students at schools throughout the state better meet their religious and spiritual needs. By not conducting regular business and classes on Diwali, Zed said that California schools would be showing respect to the faith of Hindu students, who are put at a disadvantage if they miss class, tests or assignment deadlines by taking the day off to observe Diwali. Some school districts in New York, New Jersey and Maryland have already declared Diwali as a school holiday, according to Zed.
“Hinduism is rich in festivals and religious festivals are very dear and sacred to Hindus,” said Zed. “Diwali, the festival of lights, aims at dispelling the darkness and lighting up the lives and symbolizes the victory of good over evil.”
In addition to 1,025 public school districts, 1,222 charter schools, about 3,170 private schools and all independent schools of California, Zed said the Hindu community has asked Governor Jerry Brown, California State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, California School Boards Association CEO Vernon Billy, California Charter Schools Association President Jed Wallace, California Association of Private School Organizations President Kevin Baxter, and California Association of Independent Schools Executive Director James McManus to declare Diwali as an official holiday in all the public, charter, private and independent schools of the state.
Turlock Unified School District Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Heidi Lawler said Turlock schools have not yet received a specific request; however, they read of the request in an article on an educational emailing list.
“Historically, TUSD has adopted those ‘public holidays’ designated as such by the federal or state governments and would most likely continue that practice,” said Lawler.
Similarly, Denair Unified School District Superintendent Aaron Rosander said that to the best of his knowledge, the school district has not received an official request regarding Diwali and school holidays are established through the Education Code.
“I do not recall during my career experience receiving a request and/or taking action to adopt a holiday independent of those mandated in Education Code,” said Rosander.
TUSD and DUSD currently observe seven school holidays: Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday and Memorial Day.
Lawler said that in order to add a new school holiday, the Board of Trustees would need to approve the new holiday initially, as well as with each subsequent TUSD school calendar. The last time that TUSD made any changes to its list of school holidays was in the early 1980s when the school district added the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday after federal and state legislation established the observance as a public holiday.