By TALIA WIENER
Lunar New Year is the newest addition to the Montclair school district calendar, in response to a petition signed by hundreds of students and community members.
The change won’t affect this school year’s calendar, since Lunar New Year already took place on Feb. 1, and Montclair’s school board first approved the addition on Wednesday, Feb. 2. It also won’t affect the 2022-2023 calendar, since the holiday falls on a Sunday next year.
On Tuesday, Jan. 18, the Asian Student Union started a Change.org petition asking for the community to support its request to the Board of Education — no school on Lunar New Year, the Chinese holiday marking the beginning of each new year. The petition garnered more than 650 signatures before it closed Jan. 25.
Asian Student Union members spoke at the Jan. 19 Montclair Board of Education meeting, sharing the petition and asking the board to make Lunar New Year a district-wide holiday so students could celebrate with friends and family without fear of missing classwork. In a Jan. 21 community message, schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said he was happy to support the holiday’s recognition and would ask the school board to pass a resolution designating Lunar New Year an official district holiday, with school off when the holiday falls on a weekday.
The board unanimously approved a resolution doing so the next time it met, on Feb. 2.
“The Montclair Board of Education recognizes the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community who spearheaded this effort to obtain recognition and closure by the Montclair Board of Education,” the resolution states. “The Montclair Board of Education prides itself in its intent to provide an equitable recognition and inclusion of various cultures and the celebrations.”
The Montclair Board of Education approved the 2022-2023 district calendar in July.
Montclair High School Asian Student Union President and MHS senior Leon Wang told Montclair Local he believed the approval of the holiday should have been done years ago, but is a “great first step in the right direction.”
Board Vice President Priscilla Church shared a similar sentiment during the board meeting.
“I think it’s a great response to a very definite need in our society to address all cultures with equity,” Church said. “It’s long overdue.”
While Asian students are a minority in the Montclair school district, they still deserve to celebrate holidays with their families, Wang said Jan. 19 when Asian Student Union members spoke to the board. Asian and Pacific Islander students make up about 5% of the district’s student population, according to a 2020-2021 enrollment report on the district’s website.
“We have a long way to go in creating racial equality for all ethnicities, not just Asian-Americans,” Wang told Montclair Local. “I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish as a community.”
Wang is also senior class president.
Eid-al-Fitr became a districtwide holiday in June after 11-year-old Laila Khan and her father, Saiful Khan, collected 1,000 petition signatures and brought the matter to the board. In September 2020, the board approved the addition of Juneteenth and changed Oct. 12 on the school calendar to Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day.
On Feb. 12, AAPI Montclair and the Montclair Art Museum will host AAPI Montclair’s first Lunar New Year celebration outdoors at the Montclair Art Museum, from noon to 3 p.m.