Starting next school year, students attending Beachwood City Schools will have three additional days off on the academic calendar for Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr and Diwali.
The new calendar takes effect for the 2023-2024 school year. The students will have those three days off if the holiday falls on a weekday, according to the district. For the the 2023-24 school year, Lunar New Year and Eid al-Fitr land on weekdays. Diwali falls on a weekend and will not impact the calendar.
The changes were approved by the Board of Education earlier this week. Meetings will be held next month, on Feb. 27, to vote on academic calendars for future years.
School officials said the decision to include the holidays resulted from a collaboration between the district, the Beachwood Federation of Teachers and families who take part in the Beachwood Schools Affinity Groups.
"I hope there are a couple of things that come out of this. One is that parents don't have to choose between sending their child to school and having family celebrations, recognizing that these holidays are very important to them and their family and their culture. So I think that's one very obvious byproduct of this. But also I really hope by advertising these days off, people will look into the holidays understand the holidays, understand other cultures and other people's celebrations much better," said Assistant Superintendent Ken Veon.
Veon said that he was nervous when he approached the teachers' union about the calendar change, worried it might be polarizing. But he said the reaction has been nothing but positive for the district.
"There were no comments, no questions at that point. Everyone seems to be in agreement from our community, they're accepting and inclusive," Veon said. "This is important for our community, for an inclusive environment, that we recognize these holidays, some of which are as important as Christmas or the Jewish High Holidays and Easter."
The school district provided some additional details on the holidays and when students would be off:
- Lunar New Year, known as the Spring Festival in China, celebrates the beginning of a new year on the lunisolar calendar. In honor of Lunar New Year, Beachwood Schools has designated Feb. 9, 2024 as a school holiday.
- Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. Beachwood Schools will recognize Eid al-Fitr on April 10, 2024.
- Diwali, an important religious festival originating in India, will be observed on Nov. 1, 2024.
“I’m hopeful, through this simple recognition of the holidays, that people from other cultures will know about the holidays, seek more information and an understanding about them, and most importantly, respect the practices of people who celebrate them to help develop a culture of inclusiveness and acceptance,” Veon said.
Kevin Houchins, Beachwood Schools director of equity and community engagement, said the decision was almost a no-brainer with the way the district has evolved over the years. The diversity in Beachwood has presented the district with more students with varying backgrounds and beliefs, and that it was time for the schools to reflect that with this action.
"Our demographics and our school district have been changing for the last, probably, 10 years. And where we are right now, it just makes sense that it was the right thing to do to make sure that we added these holidays our large populations," Houchins said.
For members of the community like Ramya Ramadurai, a parent with children in the district who is part of the Indian Affinity Group, this change is especially impactful.
"It's really important for us to have this day off, to be able to absorb ourselves in the celebrations and the culture. "It's a pretty big deal. Typically when it's Diwali day, we wake up really early and most of our holidays are about eating, so we eat a lot of special preparations. And typically when the kids go to school, they don't get to experience that stuff."
Ramadurai and others in the affinity groups have had discussions about making sure the district understood the importance these holidays hold to them and why it matters to have them recognized by the district.
"It definitely brings a lot of freedom, right? It brings it gives us a lot of it brings a lot of normalcy," Ramadurai said. "It raises awareness, like the community now understands that it is an important enough holiday that it's a day off from school. So those types of small changes make us feel represented."
Houchins said this move was crucial for the district and part of an ongoing effort
"We're looking at our changes and we're making sure that we're meeting the needs of the community and not just the needs of just one individual group. Sometimes I think we get complacent a lot and think 'we've always done it this way' and not thinking about who's missing, who's missing and who should be included," Houchins said. "And so it's funny everybody says that word 'inclusive,' but they really don't think about who needs to be included in this process or whatever it is that we're doing, and that's something we're doing in Beachwood and we're really happy about it."
In 2020, News 5's Camryn Justice caught up with a group of Muslims in Berea who found an innovative way to celebrate Eid al-Fitr amid coronavirus restrictions.
RELATED: Group of Berea's Muslim community gets innovative, heads outside for Eid service
The Lunar New Year and Diwali were also recognized at the state level with the law passed last year that allows fireworks to be set off in celebration of several holidays, including those two.
RELATED: Yes, you can set off fireworks after the 4th of July (and other quirks of new Ohio law)
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