About 50 township residents came to Monday’s Board of Education meeting to ask the district to include Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, as an official school holiday.
The request came as the board approved the calendar for the 2013-14 school year.
Diwali won’t be an issue for that school year because the holiday falls on Nov. 3, a Sunday in 2013.
But the question returns in 2014 when Diwali falls on a Thursday (Oct. 23) and in 2015 when the holiday is on Nov. 11 (a Wednesday), which is also Veterans Day.
According to the 2010 Census, the number of Indian-Americans in Hillsborough more than doubled from the 2000 Census, from 1,038 in 2000 to 2,237 in 2010, a 115.5 percent increase. The group makes up close to 6 percent of the township’s total population of 38,303.
Several members of the community spoke to the board about the importance of the holiday.
“Imagine it’s Christmas morning and after you open your presents, you have to drop everything and go to school,” said Nostrand Road resident Narenda Soman. “That’s how my kids feel.”
Another resident said Diwali was like “New Year’s Eve for us. Imagine not having New Year’s Day off.”
“We hear you,” board President Thomas Kinst told the residents.
Though the state Department of Education includes Diwali on its list of recognized holidays, few New Jersey school districts have designated it as a holiday. Passaic and South Brunswick have Diwali as a school holiday and residents in Bernards and New Brunswick have asked school officials to make Diwali a school holiday.
Diwali is the most important holiday of the year in India. The Festival of Lights gets its name from the row of clay lamps that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects them from spiritual darkness.
Superintendent of Schools Jorden Schiff said the state requirement of fitting 180 days of school between Sept. 1 and June 30 is the most important component of creating the annual school calendar.
“We cannot close school for every recognized holiday,” Schiff said.
Because some of the school district is not air-conditioned, Schiff said, the school year should end before heat becomes an issue. The school district also has to include five staff development days into the calendar, he said.
For instance, in the 2013-14 school year, there will be only 10 full days of school because of the Thanksgiving holidays, the New Jersey Education Association convention, three staff development days and partial days for parent-teacher conferences.
The 2013-14 school year will begin on Friday, Sept. 6, because the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday, Sept. 5.
The last day of the school year will be Thursday, June 19.
Officials are still developing the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school calendars.