School Days Off For Ethnic and Religious Holidays At BCA

Elizabeth Ki

At the Bergen County Academies (BCA), there is a large variety of students who celebrate different ethnic and religious holidays. For instance, over the next few months, students will celebrate holidays including, but not limited to, Christmas, Lunar New Year, Eid, Hanukkah, Día De Los Muertos, Pongal, Holi, and Passover. Many students also celebrated Diwali in October. However, very few students have school off for the ethnic and religious holidays that they celebrate/observe. This often restricts their ability to observe and even prevents them from celebrating. 

The Academy Chronicle asked BCA students about their thoughts on having school days off for holidays. When surveyed about the holidays they celebrate, 84.5% of polled students said they would celebrate some sort of ethnic or religious holiday in the coming months. However, only 41.7% of students said that they had school off for these holidays.

Of the holiday celebrated during the school year, a common frustration amongst students was not having off for Diwali. Almost 20% of surveyed students reported having celebrated Diwali.

“[Diwali] is one of the biggest Indian festivals of the year,” said Prisha Gupta, a freshman in AEDT. “We should get a day off on Diwali as well since many people from Bergen County  celebrate it.” 

Saumya Pal, another freshman in AEDT, added, “Diwali should definitely be considered an off day for students. The school’s Indian population who celebrates Diwali is a really good amount.” 

In addition to Diwali, students felt that certain Jewish holidays should be considered as well. Hanukkah, Tu B’shevat, Purim, Pesach (Passover), Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim, Shavuot, are some of the Jewish holidays celebrated over the next few months. 

“​​With school events always being placed on days I cannot attend [due to religious commitments], it gets very isolating,” said Yael, a sophomore in AAST.  “I don’t expect a secular school to attempt to cater to all the Jewish holidays, but sometimes it gets a little frustrating to [have to] work around [them].” 

Along with Diwali and Jewish holidays, students noted the absence of the Lunar New Year on the 2022-2023 school calendar. Students felt that it should be recognized as a day off due to the large student population celebrating it. 

“So many people at BCA celebrate it,” said Mia, a freshman in ACTS. “Observing the holiday would help a lot of people be able to better celebrate their culture.” 

The reason for this pull towards having more holidays considered as off-days is often a result of students’ ability to observe the holidays they celebrate. Over 67% of students said that having school affects their ability to participate in the traditions that come along with ethnic and religious holidays. For instance, on several Jewish holidays, the use of driving, writing, typing, and the use of electricity is prohibited. 

“I simply cannot celebrate at all. I have to be in school, writing, typing, and using electricity,” said Yael. “If I miss a day at BCA, it takes me a week to make up. I attend school on my holidays due to the fact that I have no other choice but to fall behind.” 

Other students also noted that with the amount of schoolwork given on these holidays, it was very difficult to participate. “I wasn’t able to do all of the traditions because I was stressed out by the amount of homework I had to complete by the next day,” said Saumya. “Having school on Diwali just made it seem less significant.” 

Many school districts in New Jersey are making movements to give students days off for religious and ethnic holidays. According to New Jersey 101.5, 23 districts statewide had closed their schools for Diwali, such as Clifton, Fair Lawn, Glen Rock, Bernards, Paramus, and more. Lunar New Year has also been given off by several school districts such as Ridgewood, Montclair, and Paramus. Eid-al Fitr and Eid-al Adha have been recognized by Paramus and Clifton school districts. 

However, giving students off for more holidays comes with several problems – the largest being that the school year gets much longer. According to the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), schools must have a minimum of 180 days of student instruction, which limits the number of holidays that can be considered as days off for students. “Although very much governed by tradition and community expectation, the establishment of the school calendar is a clear board function which is not subject to negotiations,” says the NJSBA. 

Given, there are possible alternatives to giving students school off for religious and ethnic holidays. Students suggested the integration of education about holidays through lesson plans and assemblies. Half days or reading days were also suggested, as they could be a good compromise. Lastly, students said that on ethnic and religious holidays, teachers and staff should try to limit their material and homework assignments to limit the course load that students had to deal with while also celebrating a holiday. 

So whether or not BCA decides to give students days off for ethnic and religious holidays, students are hoping for more recognition and consideration for holidays that they and their peers celebrate.