How I got the public school district in my town to recognize Diwali as a holiday.
To my darling daughter Dia,
I know you are only 7 years old but I already know that you are destined to do great things. So, when years from now if you are ever filled with self-doubt or if you take on a project which seems impossible but you still want to charge ahead, GO FOR IT! If you believe in something and the cause is worthy, I will be your biggest advocate and supporter. Today I feel like a winner because a process which seemed impossible at the time and took so long to accomplish, finally happened and I want to tell you how I made it happen.
Here are some facts on how Diwali was put on the Acton-Boxborough school calendar. It was a process which took almost a year and a whole lot of effort.
It all started in September 2017 when I saw that schools were closed for Rosh Hashanah. I was curious to learn more about that holiday and as you know we learned the proper way to greet people that day. That’s right – Shana Tova! That’s when I thought – Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if more people knew about Diwali and we got the day off to celebrate the proper way. I decided to do something about it.
Later that month, I started a petition to appeal to the School District.
It got more than 200 signatures from families in both the towns in less than a week.
On Dec 14th 2017, I attended the school committee meeting where the committee was discussing the school calendar and appealed to them in person why it was important to recognize Diwali in our school district. The recording is here. See after 1:45. I talked about why in a diverse town like Acton it is important to recognize not just Jewish but other religious holidays like Diwali. We need to be truly inclusive! You see, when a holiday is recognized on the school calendar it is such a positive step towards including members of the community to whom that day is special. Festival of lights is celebrated all around the world so why not in Acton?
After much deliberation they agreed that they will put the holiday on the calendar along with some other religious holidays for the 2018-2019 calendar.
However that was NEVER implemented.
Then I started a series of countless e-mails. The last 6-months have been spent in discussing this with the school committee and urging them to add it to the calendar and make the holiday policies clear. It was important for me to bring this to fruition to the best of my ability.
On July 25th I met with the superintendent Peter Light to discuss this matter in depth and how important it is to include this holiday on the school calendar and what it means for the families who celebrate this. I wanted to make sure that this is implemented before the start of the school in September 2018. I gave them examples of towns which clearly state the homework and days off policies on religious holidays. He assured me that he will get together with principals of all schools and come up with a plan.
August rolled around and I kept emailing with them until I finally saw it on the calendar!
On August 9th, I threw a celebratory party at my house and invited the whole town!
Chai and Samosa Party
August 9th 5 PM
Early November, the district sent an email out to all the teachers and residents that November 7th is Diwali and no homework and tests will be scheduled for Nov. 8th. While still not a day off, it was a step in the right direction.
I have always loved sharing our culture with everyone and this year was no exception. I went to the school to talk about Diwali and share a treat and a craft.
This year was even more special because of inclusion of Diwali on the calendar it was no longer something people had never heard of. The kids in Dia’s class at MCT painted clay DIYAS and got to take them home.
We were pleasantly surprised to even see a Diwali inspired menu in the school cafeteria that day. It was a good day!
Many parents wrote to me how nice it was for their kids (and them) to learn about this Festival of Lights. Some of them lit on their dinner tables that night.
What’s the next step for me?
I will be appealing to the school district this year for a day off on Diwali next year. Many families tell me because the schools are not off that day, they celebrate Diwali on the weekend. My question to whoever is reading this – Can you imagine holding off celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas until the following weekend?
Update- November, 2021 – After ignoring that voice in my head for more than 3 years, I wrote to the school committee again and in Dec. 2021 the school committee finally voted to give the day off for Diwali starting 2022. Read more here.