SCHENECTADY — In what officials called a historic moment, the Schenectady Board of Education voted unanimously on Wednesday to recognize Holi as an official school holiday, capping a years-long effort to recognize one of the holiest festivals of the Hindu faith.

The Schenectady High School auditorium erupted in applause moments after the board voted 7-0 approving a schedule for the 2022-23 school 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 student who was among a dozen members of the city’s growing Hindu community in attendance for the vote.

Holi is one of the most important festivals of the Hindu faith, marking the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. Those celebrating gather for prayer, a community meal and to take part in the Festival of Colors, where attendees throw colored powders at each other in a jubilant celebration.

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

“It’s 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 looking into recognizing other holidays. religious like Ramadan in the future.

Schenectady’s Hindu population has grown significantly over the past two decades, which can be attributed to former Mayor Al Jurczynski’s efforts to attract people of Guyanese descent to the New York area to renovate abandoned homes and to fill vacant positions.

Today, more than 5,600 residents of the city were born in Guyana, according to census data, although the population is considered to be underestimated, as many people of Guyanese descent who moved to the city were born in the USA.

Efforts to have the school district recognize Holi go back years, and although the district has allowed students to celebrate the holiday in the past during school hours, official recognition of the holiday so children can celebrate at home with their family remained elusive.

Sridevi Nandkishorelal, a district graduate in 2003, said the effort continued when she was a student. Seeing the district finally recognize the party, she said, was an exciting moment.

“We’re thrilled to have this on the calendar because the kids can’t wait to have a day off for the holidays,” she said. “We have a lot of cooking, partying and family time that day, so it will be nice to have all day to celebrate.”

Members of the city’s Hindu community echoed similar sentiments of support, including 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 ready to work on it.

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

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

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