Lunar New Year school holiday likely as Legislature approves bill

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Officials gathered at P.S. 124 on Friday to celebrated passage of the bill. From left: Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership, Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney and Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY | As Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, said Friday, it’s been a long time coming. Even as they’ve continued to build communities, Chinese families all over the city have always had to choose whether to send their kids to school on the Lunar New Year or keep them home to celebrate the major cultural holiday.

“In Flushing, they’re waiting, and in Sunset Park, they’re waiting,” said Chen.

They may not have to wait much longer, as the State Legislature has now taken a major step toward compelling the city’s Department of Education to close schools on the Lunar New Year.

The State Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would require consideration of school closure if a “considerable proportion” of students are likely to be absent. Since the State Assembly had already passed that bill in February, at will now go to the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who, by most accounts, is likely to sign it into law soon.

“Passage of this bill to push the Lunar New Year school holiday is proof that momentum is building, and that this community’s importance is greater across the city every single day,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, who sponsored the bill, at a press conference Friday outside Chinatown’s P.S. 124, on Division St.

“And we’re confident that we’re going to get Lunar New Year as a school holiday permanently,” he added, “so that everyone in this community knows that their holiday tradition is part of what our school system respects.”

Squadron pointed out that, according to city school records, the absentee rate at P.S. 124 on this past Lunar New Year, in February, was over 60 percent — and the absentee rate at P.S. 130, on Baxter St., was around 80 percent.

Passage of the bill was also celebrated on Friday by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and U.S. Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, as well as Assemblymember Felix Ortiz of Brooklyn, and Assemblymember Marcus Crespo of the Bronx, who had also supported the bill.

“This is a treasured and valuable cultural tradition, and it’s important that our city recognize Lunar New Year by allowing children to spend time with their families,” said Silver. “Parents should not have to choose between celebrating their cultural heritage and their children’s learning time at school.”

Maloney said she’s been so “inspired” by the push for Lunar New Year school closure that she now plans to see if it can be implemented on the national level.

“I’m definitely taking this idea back to Washington,” she said.

And Chen rounded out Friday’s remarks by verbally taking “a deep bow” on behalf of the Chinese community.

“We’re deeply grateful for all this,” he said.

It should be noted that students will be off for next year’s Lunar New Year regardless of any D.O.E. decision, since the holiday, which next year falls on Feb. 19, will take place during the scheduled winter break.

Maloney mentioned Friday that Feb. 19 is also her birthday.

“So I’m really going to have a big celebration,” she said, with a laugh.

D.O.E. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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