Hindu leader calls for closing schools on his religion’s most popular holiday

Should Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, be a day that all Pennsylvania schools should be ordered closed?

The president of the Universal Society of Hinduism is calling on Pennsylvania policymakers to work toward closing schools on Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, to prevent students of the Hindu faith from missing tests and class work and enlighten others about this most popular Hindu holiday.  

The Nevada-based Universal Society of Hinduism thinks so.

Its president Rajan Zed issued a statement on Wednesday calling on Gov. Tom Wolf, state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera and State Board of Education Chairman Larry Wittig to work toward recognizing this popular of Hindu festivals as an official holiday and close schools and persuade private schools to follow suit.

This year, Diwali is on Oct. 19. Unionville-Chadds Ford School District in Kennett Square, Delaware County, is closed that day, Zed said. The district’s calendar lists it as an in-service day.

Zed indicated closing schools for Diwali would be “a step in the positive direction, as it was important to meet the religious and spiritual needs of Hindu pupils.”

A state Department of Education spokeswoman said the school code allows local school districts to close schools for up to five days for local holidays but those days must be designated in the school calendar, which must be approved by the school board before the start of the school year.

Additionally, the school code allows students to have an excused absence for religious holidays or religious instructions so that is another option Hindus could exercise.

The only days that the school code specifies when school must be closed are Sundays, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the First of January.

But Zed said if schools must be closed on a religious holiday like Christmas, why not for Diwali?

He said students of the Hindu faith should not be put at “an unnecessary disadvantage for missing tests/examinations/papers, assignments, class work, etc., by taking a day-off to observe Diwali.”

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association prefers to keep things the way they are, said spokesman Steve Robinson. “Selecting special holidays to observe should remain a decision of the locally elected school board and not mandated by the state,” he said.

According to Pew Research Center, 1 percent of Pennsylvania adults identify themselves as of the Hindu faith.

But Zed sees awareness of other religions’ holidays, such as Diwali which aims to dispel the darkness, light up lives and symbolize the victory of good over evil, as an opportunity to make “Pennsylvania students well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow.”

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