Every February, Lunar New Year is celebrated by one fifth of the world’s populations in many Asian countries including China, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. Each country has unique traditions to welcome the New Year and Chinese New Year tops the list as the largest holiday in the world. In China, students and adults alike take weeks off of school and work for the numerous festivities that occur in a near month-long period of time.
The Greater Washington Area is known to have one of the highest concentrations of Asian Americans; in MCPS, Asian students represent over 15% of the county’s population. However, despite it being the most significant holiday in Asian culture and traditionally involving weeks of family gatherings and celebrations, MCPS does not cancel a single day of school for this holiday.
According to MCPS policy, students are allowed excused absences for religious purposes and teachers are “encouraged not to have major tests or major project deadlines” on these days. This policy, while a sign of process, does not sufficiently solve the problem. In reality, an excused absence is not the same as a day off; students who celebrate these religious holidays are still missing out on instructional material, which may result in them having difficulty catching up with the class after the holidays. In addition, since teachers are not required to abide by this “no-testing” policy, students also have to deal with the added stress of making up possible projects and exams from several different classes, adding to their already burdened workload.
“I believe school should be closed for at least a day in recognition of Lunar New Year,” explained freshman Kaylen Pak of RMHS, “It encourages racial diversity and draws attention to the Asian minority, which otherwise is not recognized much at all; you don’t see an ‘Asian History Month’ being celebrated in schools.” Pak stated.
MCPS has already decided to close school on many religious holidays including Eid Ul-Adha, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, just to name a few. There is no reason why this rule cannot apply to religious Asian holidays such as Lunar New Year.. Other school districts, such as New York City Schools, schools are closed on Lunar New Year.
“(We) are setting a high bar for inclusiveness for the rest of the country,” New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña noted in an interview with the NY Daily News, explaining that the change in NYC schools’ curriculum encourages students and families to learn about the holiday.
Lunar New Year, being such a prominent holiday for a significant portion of MCPS students, deserves a day off to allow students to participate in many cultural traditions ranging from dragon dances to red envelope exchanges to simply visiting relatives and friends. However, due to an inadequate policy, the extreme majority of Asian Americans still attend school in fear of falling behind in classes, instead of spending time with loved ones on this treasured holiday.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Valerie Wang of Richard Montgomery High School