State lawmakers introduced on Tuesday a bill that would eliminate Brooklyn-Queens Day from the New York City public school calendar.
The measure sponsored by state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky aims to clear a day on the calendar to permit public schools to close for the Asian Lunar New Year in the winter. Brooklyn-Queens Day, which falls on the first Thursday of June, marks the foundation of the first Sunday schools in both boroughs during the 19th century.
For decades, local Protestant churches celebrated Brooklyn-Queens Day with parades through their communities, but the parades stopped in recent years as Protestant congregations plummeted. The last major Brooklyn-Queens Day parade took place in Ridgewood in 2009, ending a century-long tradition.
Nevertheless, schools in Brooklyn and Queens remain closed the first Thursday of June, but many of them use the day for staff development.
The bill states that “there is no reason to continue this anachronistic holiday in state statutes when there is pressure to increase the time students spend in school.” However, Stavisky noted, the elimination of Brooklyn-Queens Day gives the city Department of Education (DOE) flexibility in adding another holiday such as Asian Lunar New Year.
“As a former teacher, I understand the mayor and the Department of Education have a mandate to make sure students are receiving as much classroom instructional time as possible,” Stavisky said. “But educating our students and allowing them to observe important cultural holidays should not be opposing goals. I believe that removing the now defunct Brooklyn-Queens Day and replacing it with the Lunar New Year is a pragmatic solution that the mayor and the Department of Education must consider.”
Among those who joined Stavisky at a Tuesday press conference in Flushing in support of the bill were state Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblymen Ron Kim and Edward Braunstein, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and City Councilman Peter Koo.
“The history of Brooklyn-Queens Day demonstrates how observance of this day on the public school calendar has changed over the years to meet the changing demographics of our city,” Koo said. “Today, approximately 15 percent of our New York City public school students identify as Asian-American, and we must take this into consideration as we prepare the school calendar for future years.”
According to Stavisky’s office, city public schools in Asian-majority neighborhoods report absentee rates as high as 80 percent on Lunar New Year, which is “the most important cultural celebration on the Asian calendar.”
Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation declaring two Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, as school holidays beginning this September. Koo criticized the mayor in March for failing to grant the same holiday status for the Asian Lunar New Year.
Last December, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation granting the DOE greater flexibility to close schools on cultural and religious holidays. By law, all New York City public schools are required to hold at least 180 school days every year.