Updated at 8:37 p.m. May 3
Students and family members in Quincy spurred a push to get Lunar New Year recognized as a school holiday for the district, but on Wednesday night Quincy School Committee members voted to approve a school calendar that does not include Lunar New Year as a day off.
The vote was 6-1, with only committee vice chair Frank Santoro voicing support for the change. Other members referenced the lack of historical precedent and questioned if they were to adopt holidays based on student demographics, how they would do that fairly.
"I'm not comfortable with separating out one entity, one ethnicity group from the 40 flags and the 70 languages that we have in our schools, and saying that this one is more important than yours," said committee member Emily Lebo.
The push for the holiday to be included in the 2023-2034 calendar started last month, when three students at North Quincy High School, along with two members of the community, went before the committee to bring up the proposal. One of the students, Angela Chen, is president of the school's Asian Culture Club.
"To the Chinese and other Asian populations, Lunar New Year is a very, if not the most important, holiday in our cultures," Chen said.
A subcommittee ended up not voting to support the proposal last week. Members of the commmunity gathered again at the school committee meeting Wednesday to push for the addition of the holiday to the school's calendar.
Santoro proposed the idea two years ago, but it went nowhere. He the idea that recognizing the holiday would require the district to do the same for other groups is an unfounded concern.
"The majority of our students are of Asian descent. We're not talking about a sub-group, we're talking about the majority," he said. "And I don't think that they see that it's important to do it. I think maybe change is tough for them to actually see."
According to state data, 39.3% of students in Quincy are of Asian descent and make up the district's largest racial group. Currently, Santoro doesn't believe that any members of the school committee are of Asian descent.
Angie Liou, executive director of the Asian Community Development Corporation, said several cultures celebrate Lunar New Year, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean cultures.
"So, it is an important holiday," Liou said. "What I would compare it to is Christmas being the biggest holiday. In my own family, Lunar New Year is the big one."
Truc Lai, who has two children in Quincy Public Schools, says celebrating Lunar New Year has always been a big deal for members of the community who mark the event.
"And that's why it's so important to have that day off. So students can celebrate, but students don't have to worry about having [to miss] school," she said. "And students are not being reprimanded for having the absent in their school record to celebrate their culture."
Lai hopes that the school committee understands the scope of this issue.
"And that they need to open their eyes, they need to look at the data, they need to hear from the Asian American population about what we want and then for them to ammend and suggest to put Lunar New Year in next year's calendar," she said.
Before the vote on Wednesday night, committee member Tina Cahill brought up that Lunar New Year falls on a Saturday in 2024, and said it was a "moot point" to discuss including on the calendar if the holiday wasn't going to land on a school day.
Other committee members agreed, including Mayor Thomas Koch, who recommended they revisit the idea.
"What I'd like to do is adopt the calendar as we have it, but let's not wait 'til next year [to reconsider]," Koch said. "Why don't we do a survey of the system? We come up with some questions of all faiths and cultures and see what's on people's minds."
After other committee members made it clear they would not support recognizing Lunar New Year in the coming school year, Santoro took a moment to commend Chen for her effort.
"True leaders are not only people that have a vision, they get others to pursue that vision as well," he said. "And, Angela, you've got 1,200 people in this community to see that vision and follow along with you. And there are more hundreds more that probably will be signing it after seeing all of that."
This story was updated to include details from Wednesday night's committee vote and correct a typo in Angie Liou’s name.
GBH editor Lisa Wardle contributed to this report.