Students celebrate Diwali after failed petition

Diwali drawings done by SHS students

Diwali drawings done by SHS students

Hannah Levenson, Editor-in-Chief

In the hallways by the cafeteria, Solon High School (SHS) students can view decorations for Diwali which started yesterday. Last school year, there was a petition for SHS students to have school off on the first day of Diwali and Chinese New Year.

Diwali is known as the Hindu festival of lights and is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists. Originating from India, the holiday symbolizes victory over the light of darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. The celebration lasts five days during the Hindu lunisolar month, Kartika, which falls around the middle of October and November in the Gregorian calendar.

Traditional activities include telling stories related to Hindu figures, decorating homes and workplaces with diyas (oil lamps), ragnolis (colorful art circle patterns), wearing fine clothes, performing worship ceremonies to various Hindu deities and having family feasts where mithai (sweets) and gifts are exchanged.

Chinese New Year, also known as the spring festival of the Lunar New Year, is the festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year in the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar, or around February. The holiday is celebrated for 15 days, with the end of the period being celebrated during the Lantern festival. Originating in China, it is also commonly celebrated in other Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Both holidays are key celebrations in the cultures that celebrate them. SHS’s Asian student population was about 17.4% during the 2020-2021 school year, the largest racial group after White/Caucasian. While this data does not include Solon’s elementary and middle schools, there are an estimated 783 Asian students out of 4,500 students, not including biracial Asian students.

In the state of Ohio, a high school is required to have 1,001 instructional hours per a school year, with 182 days planned for freshman, sophomores and juniors at SHS, or roughly more than 1,200 hours per a school year. The subtraction of two school days, or about 14 hours would be comparable in time to two snow days and would allow Solon to meet State Standards.

Diwali decorations in an SHS hallway

Students who celebrate Diwali and Chinese New Year choose between going to school or participating in their cultural traditions during the day.

Juhi Kotwani, an SHS Senior, celebrates Diwali with her family but does not miss school the first day. Kotwani’s mother spends the day preparing their house and cooking traditional dishes, activities Kotwani used to participate in before she decided to attend school on Diwali.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a bad Hindu,” Kotwani said. “My parents really want me to prioritize education because that’s why [my family came to Solon]. It feels like I’m either choosing to be a good student or religious. It’s like an ongoing battle…I don’t like having to choose between one or the other.”

SHS juniors Sasmitha Baskaran and Jenny Zhu noticed the issue last school year, prompting them to come up with a petition to submit to the Solon administration. They hoped to have the first day off of the holidays to celebrate Diwali and Chinese New Year, since it is most culturally significant, but their petition was ultimately denied. Baskaran stated in a later interview that she was disappointed when her and Zhu’s petition was denied by the school board.

Solon City Schools Superintendent, Fred Bolden, stated that religious days that are given off, are not because of the religious observance themselves, but because of the lack of attendance on the day.

“As I explained to [the petitioners] and the [school board meeting], we have off for religious observances and are not actually off for religious observances themselves,” Bolden said. “[The day is given off] because of the numbers of students who don’t come to school on those days.”

Despite school not being off for Diwali and Chinese New Year, Bolden stated that Solon City Schools is committed to making absences easier for students on holidays.

“We actually have a no dock absence code for those days and we have instructed our teachers that on those days, they shouldn’t have work loads for the kids or significant things they would miss on those days,” Bolden said.

Chinese New Year is celebrated by family gatherings, exchanging hóngbāo (red money envelopes), decorating homes with Chinese lanterns and putting Chinese characters and couplets on red paper to stick on doors. Wearing red and new clothes is encouraged because it is believed that it will ward off the Nian monster, a beast in traditional Chinese Mythology.

Zhu, who celebrates Chinese New Year, moved to the United States from China during her elementary school years. Along with ESL classes, Zhu struggled with adapting to American culture and customs. Zhu explained that she went under a cultural shock when she learned that Chinese New Year did not receive time off during the school year.

“[In China] there is [Gregorian] New Year and Chinese New Year,” Zhu said. “We celebrate both, but for Chinese New Year especially, we get almost two weeks to almost a month off of school, so it’s like a really big holiday for [those who celebrate].”

Zhu stated that expectations she had of the United States were different from the reality she experienced.

“In China, I grew up knowing America as this really diverse place,” Zhu said. “When I first got here, there were [days off for] like Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah, stuff like that. I was quite surprised that we didn’t have the school day off for Chinese New Year.”

Baskaran, who celebrates Diwali, participates in pujas, Hindu prayers, to different deities with her family on Diwali. In order to participate in this ritual, Baskaran misses school on the first day of Diwali. Baskaran expressed that taking a day off to celebrate Diwali in High School was difficult for her academic performance.

“Right now in high school, especially with the classes I’m taking, missing a day feels like I am missing a lot of information,” Baskaran said. “[Last] year I didn’t come to school on Diwali, I had an AP Bio test the day after. Mr. Grimm [Baskaran’s AP Biology teacher] wasn’t [there that day] so I couldn’t actually talk to him to say I can’t take the test right now. So I took the test and didn’t do so hot.”