By SCOTT JACKSON
The Quincy Public Schools will not close in observance of Lunar New Year next year despite a push by students and other community members to make it a new school holiday.
The School Committee on May 3 voted 6-1 to approve a calendar for the 2023-2024 academic year that did not include the new day off. Committee vice chairperson Frank Santoro voted against the calendar. Santoro had tried, unsuccessfully, to amend the calendar to include Lunar New Year as a holiday for which schools would close.
While schools will not close in observance of Lunar New Year, it is one of several major religious and cultural holidays identified on the calendar, meaning they are “recognized as important days in the lives of students and families.” Accordingly, QPS staff members, “will strive to avoid scheduling deadlines for long-term assignments, assessments, field trips, auditions, events and athletic competition on these days.”
The list of major religious and cultural holidays is a new addition to the calendar.
Included on the list during the 2023-2024 school year are Sept. 16 and 17 (Rosh Hashanah); Sept. 25 (Yom Kippur); Nov. 12 (Diwali); Dec. 7-15 (Hanukkah); Dec. 26-Jan. 1 (Kwanzaa); Jan. 6 (Three Kings Day); Feb. 10 (Lunar New Year); March 10 (the beginning of Ramadan); March 25 (Holi); April 9 and 10 (Eid al-Fitr); and April 22 (the beginning of Passover).
A group of students from North Quincy High School had led an effort in recent weeks to have the school system close in observance of Lunar New Year next year, speaking out during the open forum portion of the school board’s meeting on April 5 and launching an online petition signed by 1,200 people.
At the meeting on May 3, nine residents spoke in favor of closing schools for Lunar New Year. Several of the speakers noted that 39 percent of Quincy Public Schools students are of Asian descent.
“The ask is simple, please have our school holidays reflect, respect, the current population of our community,” said Kate Campbell of Cranch Street. “As our city demographics have shifted and changed over time and we have continued to benefit from the strengths of a more diverse community, our school holidays have largely stayed the same, honoring the beliefs and the traditions of some, and ignoring the beliefs and the traditions of many others.”
Four letters in support of making Lunar New Year a school holiday were also read into the record on May 3, including one from City Councillor Nina Liang. In her letter, Liang emphasized the importance of Lunar New Year to the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
“Growing up and still today, I appreciate this time of year as a time to reflect, celebrate and gather together with family and loved ones to welcome in the new year,” Liang said. “The traditions my family practices in celebration and honor of Lunar New Year have also instilled in me the values that connect us deeply to family, culture and life. They have shaped who I am in appreciating the value of togetherness, of respect and of gratitude. This time of year is more than just a holiday, it is a defining, integral part of who we are.
“I speak for myself and the way my family celebrates this time of year and recognize that not unlike other holidays they are celebrated in similar and varying ways from family to family. At its core, however, the important thing is families have the time to focus on celebrating and observing said holiday.”
Following the public comments, the school board discussed the calendar for next year.
Committee member Douglas Gutro noted the calendar that was ultimately adopted included the list of major religious and cultural holidays and said he supported observing Lunar New Year the same as any other date on that list.
“Isn’t our DEI initiatives, and we established a DEI subcommittee in the Quincy School Committee, about ensuring all cultures and religions are treated similarly with respect and not singling out one without the demographics,” he said, referring to the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
“And if we choose to do it based on demographics, then we need to set up some kind of a system that says over 10 years, 20 years, we re-evaluate the recognition of it based on the demographics of the city…because the demographics change.”
Gutro said he was also concerned about making Lunar New Year a school holiday but not a citywide one, meaning city employees with children in the school system would have to find childcare if schools closed that day.
Committee member Kathryn Hubley said the list of holidays included as part of the calendar was an appropriate way to recognize Lunar New Year and other important dates.
“I think that what we’re doing with the bottom of the calendar is wonderful and I think it respects and it is equitable to all of our families in the schools, which is what we have to do,” she said. “We see and respect all the students of QPS.”
Committee member Tina Cahill called the issue a “moot point” because Lunar New Year falls on a Saturday in 2024.
“If this was a Monday or a Tuesday or a Wednesday, it might be something that we should be thinking about more considerably,” she added.
Committee member Emily Lebo said the school system should not be separating out one ethnic group from others and saying that “this one is more important than yours.”
“That’s what it would sound like to me if I was an Indian student or I was some other nationality and I said, ‘well, I guess being this is not quite as important in Quincy as being Asian is. Being a Latinx is not quite as important,’” Lebo said. “I worry about that aspect of it.”
Mayor Thomas Koch asked Supt. Kevin Mulvey if he had surveyed other school districts to see what they do for Lunar New Year. Mulvey said some communities do take the day off should Lunar New Year fall on a weekday.
“Those communities celebrate it on the day that Lunar New Year falls, so if it falls on a weekend it is not recognized as a holiday on their calendar,” Mulvey said. “If it does fall on a school day, in these few communities…the holiday is followed.”
Brookline, Hopkinton and Wayland are among the school districts to do so, said Laura Owens, the assistant to the superintendent.
Koch said he would be open to having schools closed for Lunar New Year should the holiday fall on a weekday but would not support doing so if it falls on a weekend, like it will in 2024.
“For that reason, what I would like to do is adopt the calendar as we have it, but let’s not wait ‘til next year,” to reconsider the matter, the mayor said, suggesting the district could send out some sort of survey about holidays to families.
“We have a year from my perspective to do a little more work on it,” Koch added.
Santoro, the committee’s vice chairperson, then apologized to the students and parents who had attended an April 26 subcommittee meeting, where the calendar was on the agenda but not discussed. He also apologized to the “hundreds of parents that will be calling in to excuse their children that day” and to the attendance staff who would have to take those calls.
“An apology is also given to students who have to make a choice between perfect attendance and missing work and celebrating on a most important holiday to their family,” Santoro said.
Santoro then made a motion to have a day off on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in observance of Lunar New Year, which is the following day. The motion failed, however, because none of his colleagues seconded it.
The committee then voted 6-1 to approve the calendar, with Santoro dissenting.
Under the 2023-24 calendar adopted by the school board, the first day of classes for students in grades 1-9 is Wednesday, Sept. 6, with grades 10-12 back in school the following day. Pre-K and kindergarten orientation will be held on Friday, Sept. 8, and the first day for those students is Monday, Sept. 11.
The last day for graduating high school seniors is Thursday, May 30, which is not subject to change because of snow days. North Quincy High School’s graduation will take place on Monday, June 10, and Quincy High School’s graduation is the following day.
The final day for other students would be Monday, June 17, assuming there are no snow days. In the event five days of school have to be made up, the final day for students would be Tuesday, June 25.
Schools will be closed on Oct. 9 for Columbus Day; Nov. 7 for Election Day, Nov. 10 in observance of Veterans Day, which falls on a Saturday this year; Nov. 23 and 24 for Thanksgiving; Jan. 15 for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day; March 29 for Good Friday; and June 19 for Juneteenth, if the school year extends that far.
Winter recess will begin following the end of school on Dec. 22 and classes will resume on Jan. 2. February recess commences at the end of the school on Feb. 16 and classes will resume on Feb. 26. April vacation starts following the end of school on April 12 with classes resuming on April 22.
The district will continue to have early release days on Wednesdays next year, as it has in recent years.