Schenectady recognizes Holi as school holiday


SCHENECTADY In what officials called a historic moment, the Schenectady Board of Education on Wednesday voted unanimously to recognize Holi as an official school holiday, capping off a yearslong effort to have recognized one of the most sacred holidays of the Hindu faith. 

The auditorium of Schenectady High School erupted in applause moments after the board voted 7-0 approving a calendar for the 2022-23 academic year that officially recognizes Holi as a school holiday.

“It’s wonderful to see our culture grow,” said Ashton Pooran, an 18-year-old high school senior who was one of around a dozen members of the city’s growing Hindu community in attendance for the vote. 

Holi is one of the most important holidays in the Hindu faith, marking the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. Those who celebrate gather for prayer, a community meal and to participate in the festival of colors, where participants throw colorful powders at one another in a jubilant celebration.  

The Schenectady City School District is believed to be the first district in New York state to recognize the holiday, according to Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr.

“It is a historic day for this community,” he said. 

Soler said recognizing the holiday aligns with the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion policy approved last year and said the district should begin examine the possibility of recognizing other religious holidays like Ramadan in the future. 

Schenectady’s Hindu population has grown significantly over the last two decades, which can be traced by to efforts by former Mayor Al Jurczynski’s to attract those of Guyanese descent to the area from New York City as a way to refurbish abandon homes and fill vacant job positions.

Today, more than 5,600 city residents were born an Guyana, according to census data, though the population is believed to be an underestimate since many of Guyanese descent who have moved to the city were born in the United States.  

Efforts to have Holi recognized by the school district date back years, and while the district has allowed students to celebrate the holiday in the past during school hours, having the holiday officially recognized so children can celebrate at home with family remained elusive. 

Sridevi Nandkishorelal, a 2003 graduate of the district, said the effort was ongoing when she was a student. Seeing the district finally recognize the holiday, she said, was an exciting moment.

“We’re just excited to have this on the calendar, because the kids look forward to having a day off for the holiday,” she said. “We have a lot of cooking and celebrating and spending time with family that we do that day, so it will be nice to have the entire day to celebrate.” 

Members from the city’s Hindu community echoed similar sentiments of support, including City Councilman John Mootooveren, who said he hopes the district will eventually recognize the Hindu holiday of Diwali in the future.

It’s a goal, Soler said, the district is open to working towards. 

“We need to really start thinking about that,” he said. “We have a DEI policy that really should force us as a system to figure some of these things out. I think collectively, if we’re willing to have some of these conversations, I think we can do it.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

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