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Great Neck schools first on LI to celebrate Lunar New Year

Members of the New York Chinese Drum School

Members of the New York Chinese Drum School perform onstage at the Chinese New Year celebration at Great Neck High School on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

The Great Neck school district is adding Lunar New Year to its roster of vacation days, apparently the first on Long Island to do so.

The decision comes two months after members of the Great Neck Chinese Association and Great Neck Korean Civic Association petitioned the school board to recognize the holiday.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the request at Monday night’s board meeting.

School board president Barbara Berkowitz said the decision was about the “richness and value” placed on diversity and family in Great Neck.

Sheila Henchy, president of the Great Neck Teacher’s Association, also spoke in support of the petition.

“Accepting this as a school holiday is not solely a recognition of the people that celebrate that holiday but it is also a recognition that we are all enriched by the cultures that come into our district,” Henchy said.

The number of Asian students in the Great Neck school district has doubled in the past decade, and now stands at 34 percent of the student body. At Great Neck South Middle School and the High School, Asian students represent half the student population.

These numbers are a reflection of the growing Asian community in the Great Neck peninsula. According to the most recent U.S. census American Community Survey, Asians make up about 14 percent, or 5,505, of the area’s total 39,496 residents.

Dozens of Asian residents attended Monday’s meeting.

Saddle Rock resident Mimi Hu, a member of the Great Neck Chinese Association, said she brought her mother and son to Monday’s school board meeting to celebrate the occasion.

“This is such a big thing for us,” Hu said. “We are exultant, our whole board is exultant — we can’t believe this.”

Hu said members of the Great Neck Chinese Association were “pleasantly surprised” by the swiftness of the decision, which they had expected to take “forever.”

Since Lunar New Year falls on a Saturday in the 2016-2017 school year, the school holiday will be recognized for the first time the following academic year on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018.

Though this remains some time away, some Asian residents say they’re elated they can celebrate what they consider the most important holiday of the year.

“Now our kids don’t need to struggle between staying home and celebrating culture or skipping school,” said Shuna Luk, president of the Great Neck Chinese Association. “I believe it’s a milestone.”

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