Minimum day added to calendar for Hindu holiday

A minimum day was added to future school calendars during Diwali after three freshmen wrote to superintendent Tony Knight about the lack of free time given for the Hindu holiday.

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated each year between October and November. This year, it will fall Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Roughly 850 students are Hindu district-wide, making up 15 percent of all Oak Park students.

Last October, freshmen Prinaka Drona, Prerana Rao and Preksha Rao wrote to Knight about the lack of time off given during the holiday. As a result, school will be cut to a minimum day each Diwali and if the holiday falls on a weekend, the preceding Friday will have a minimum day instead.

According to Prerena Rao, the process of planning and writing the email sent to Knight took multiple drafts.

“It took a while because we didn’t want to come off as offensive or pushy in any way –– we just wanted to get our point across,” Prerana Rao said. “We had to make several rough drafts of it before sending the email.”

There are many factors that go into changing the school calendar ––including the date and the amount of days already taken off that school year.

“Our goal actually kind of changed. At first it was to get a day off for Diwali, but after sending a few emails back and forth with Dr. Knight, he explained to us that a day off is really hard to get. You need a certain amount of days in the school year, so then our goal changed into getting a minimum day –– though it’s kind of hard to that, too, because the day of Diwali changes,” Prerana Rao said.

There were already set minimum days around the same time as Diwali, so the date of the minimum day was moved around to coincide with the day of the holiday.

“We have a Calendar Committee that is made up of teachers, support staff, administrators and parents. They worked this out. We found that we were able to add the minimum day and remain within the required number of instructional minutes required by the state,” Knight wrote to the Talon. “State law requires 180 days of school, which is what we have, so we are not allowed to reduce the number of days.”

After months of emailing back and forth about the logistics of a new half day and deciding where to place it, the schedule change passed the Calendar Committee and the writers of the email were notified of the change.

“We were really excited because we worked on this for three months. It’s pretty great,” Drona said.

The new minimum day will affect how students and their families celebrate Diwali and allow for more time to be spent celebrating the holiday, according to Drona.

“I was super excited, because I have an extra day of rest, but also because we finally got recognized,” freshman Nikhil Kalakota said. “I think it’ll give me a lot more time to finish my work earlier so we have more time to have parties and celebrate the holiday.”

Students in the Oak Park district will not be the only ones affected; according to Oak Park mother Rupa Rao, the effects of the new minimum day reach into the lives of their families and the rest of the Hindu community in the area.

“We get to spend more time doing all the traditional and cultural stuff, like decorating the house with oil lamps, drawing pretty designs with colored sand, cook up a feast and enjoy it together without the pressure of school or homework,” Rupa Rao said.

According to the email’s authors, it was a long and difficult process, but the outcome was worth the amount of time taken.

“We learned that it’s important to take a stand for what you believe in,” Drona said. “It’s crucial, and sometimes it works out the way you want it to.”