State Board of Education asked to recognize five more Hindu holidays

MILLBURNdiwali.jpg — While parents in Millburn are circulating petitions in an attempt to have school closed on a variety of religious holidays in the 2015-2016 school year, another voice is asking for more religious holidays to be added to the state’s official list of religious holidays pupils may take.

Rajan Zed, a Hindu statesman, has asked the New Jersey State Board of Education to add another five holidays to its official “list of religious holidays permitting pupil absence from school.”

This list identifies 107 holidays ranging from Gantan-sai, a Shinto holiday, which falls on Jan. 1, to Zarathosht Diso, a Zoroastrian holiday that falls on Dec. 26. There are holidays on the list for every religion, including the Church of Scientology, which celebrates founder L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday on March 13.

The list includes holidays celebrated by these religions: Wicca, Zoroastrian, Sikh, Jewish, Jain, Buddhist, Philadelphia Church of God, Christian, Eastern Orthodox Christian, Hindu, Baha’i, Islam, Jehovah’s Witness, Church of God, Confucian, Daoist, Armenian Orthodox and Shinto.

According to the resolution setting these religious holidays, if a student takes one of these holidays, it is “mandatory to excuse a student. The list, however, is to be a minimum list. Boards of education, at their discretion, may add other days to the list for the schools of their district.”

Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, has asked the state board to include Naga Panchami, Guru Purnima, Goverdhan Puja, Pongal and Onam on the list.

Zed issued a statement which said, “Since families want to celebrate these festivals together along with their school-going children, we did not want our children to be deprived of any privileges at the school because of thus resulting absences on these days.”

Hindu holidays that are already included on the New Jersey list for 2014-15 are: Raksha Bandhan, Krishna Janmashtami, Ganesha Chaturthi, Navaratri, Duserra, Diwali, Makar Sankranti, Vasant Panchami, Maha Shivaratri, Holi, Chandramana Yugadi, Ram Navami, Hanuman Jayanti and Souramana Yugadi.

Inclusion on the list means, “Any student absent from school because of a religious holiday may not be deprived of any award or of eligibility or opportunity to compete for any award because of such absence” and if the student misses a test or exam while taking a religious holiday, he or she “must be given the right to take an alternate test or examination.”

In Millburn, people are circulating petitions asking the board to approve closing district schools for a variety of religions holidays, including Diwali, Rosh Hashanah — Day 1, Rosh Hashannah – Day 2 and Yom Kippur; Good Friday; Chinese New Year and Eid — Muslim Holidays, according to the district’s website.

They have until the end of September to file the petitions, after which they will be validated and approved, posted on the website and then families with children in the school will receive an online ballot. Voting closes on Nov. 11. After that, the Board of Education and administration will decide which, if any, holidays to put on the calendar.