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City consolidates two half-days to make Lunar New Year a holiday

Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

Lunar New Year will be an official New York City school holiday, fulfilling a long-standing promise from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

De Blasio announced the designation of the holiday with a tweet Monday night that said, “Working toward a more inclusive city,” in English, Mandarin, and Korean.

In the coming school year, schools will close on February 8 for the holiday, Fariña and de Blasio said on Tuesday. The move fulfills a campaign promise and comes after the city added two Muslim holidays to the school calendar, prompting months of renewed pressure from City Council members and state officials.

During his mayoral campaign, Mayor de Blasio said he would make both the Lunar New Year and the Muslim holidays of Eid-al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha official school holidays. Advocates had long pushed for the day off because of parents having to choose between their children celebrating the holiday or attending school on the holiday.

“We pledged to families we would keep working until we made Lunar New Year an official school holiday, and today we are keeping that promise,” de Blasio said.

Schools will still meet the state-mandated 180 days of instruction. To add the holiday without disrupting the city’s carefully-constructed schedule or running afoul of union rules, the city will do away with two half-days previously dedicated to staff planning on June 8 and 14 in exchange for a full day off earlier in the year.

Last year, the holiday landed in the middle of midwinter recess, but in previous years it has fallen on a school day. The holiday is also scheduled to fall on a school day in at least the next few years.

In March, the education department added the Eid holidays to the school calendar. At that time, the city said they hadn’t figured out how to also add the Lunar New Year holiday while maintaining the legally mandated number of school days.

“What we’ve found in this process is that we are in a very tight situation, as I said, with the number of days that we have to achieve each year, so it’s going to take more work to get to that,” de Blasio said then.

The movement to add the Eid and Lunar New Year holidays has sparked criticism from some who pointed out that none of those holidays have much of an effect on citywide attendance, though some schools with large Asian and Muslim populations empty out on those days.

Nevertheless, earlier this month, the State Senate voted to make the Lunar New Year a school holiday. The bill would apply to school districts of cities with more than a million residents that have at least a 7.5 percent Asian population, which only applies to the city, but de Blasio responded before the bill passed the full legislature in Albany.

The city schools will become the second major urban school district, after San Francisco, to close for the holiday.

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