Washington, D.C. (January 15, 2016) – Leaders of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) lauded the Howard County (MD) Board of Education’s unanimous vote to include Diwali as a day off for students in the 2016-17 school year.

The Board approved Diwali, along with Eid al-Adha and Lunar New Year’s Eve, as holidays for inclusion in the academic calendar. Diwali is slated to be observed as a professional development day Oct. 31, but district officials must first review whether the professional development day can be moved without impacting instruction time before finalizing the holiday.

HAF worked with Howard County Hindu community members to push for inclusion of Diwali as a holiday, given the county’s growing diversity and a significant number of families who observe Diwali in the region, including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists. HAF education director Murali Balaji credited members of the Chinmaya Mission for being engaged on the issue. HAF and Chinmaya Mission started a petition that collected over 250 signatures in under three weeks, while the Board received nearly 500 emails from parents asking for inclusion of Diwali. The Indian Students at Centennial High School (ISAC) also collected and submitted signatures for the effort.

“By taking this vote, the Howard County Board of Education has shown a great way forward in acknowledging diverse religious holidays without violating the spirit of church-state separation,” said Balaji, who along with several Chinmaya Mission members, testified at the Board’s hearing last month. “It also shows how change can take place when our community is engaged in a constructive manner. While nothing is final, this vote is really a testament to the Hindu community’s passion and desire for equity.”

HAF continues to be involved in a similar effort in Montgomery County, MD, where a petition drive has generated over 1,300 signatures, with help from Hindu, Sikh, and Jain organizations.