Religious holiday ruined by Schenectady school administrators, students say

SCHENECTADY — The school district plans to make Holi, a Hindu religious celebration, a district-recognized holiday amid complaints from high school students and staff who say last week’s festival was marred by the actions from some administrators who sent mixed messages about respecting the school party.

Commonly referred to as the “Festival of Colors”, Holi celebrates the arrival of spring and the coming harvest, the blossoming of love, and the victory of good over evil. It’s a joyful day marked by people of all ages playing with vibrant colors.

While the district allowed outdoor celebrations, the Times Union learned from some high school students and teachers that one of the principals announced on March 18 via the public address system that students going to the third lunch period would not would not be allowed to enter if they were covered. powder, an integral part of the party.

The district did not explain the decision, but students who wrote to the newspaper said they suspected administrators who saw students with powder on their faces assumed the students were already in the cafeteria. An earlier announcement allowed students to use the powder in outdoor school yards.

“They were making announcements like you have powder on you, you can’t attend lunch because you were already there and there is no powder allowed in the school,” Aishwarya Asweem wrote. . “Some kids weren’t able to eat lunch today because of this announcement and that’s just plain wrong.”

Another student, Surendra “Jonathan” Bridgnanan, said via email that he couldn’t get into the cafeteria on the third lunch at 1:20 p.m. Friday and “must have starved until I got there. home around 4:00 p.m. He said he was surprised by derogatory comments he heard from some students and staff.

“I felt disgusted [with] how teachers, staff and some students who were not of our religion began to have hatred,” he wrote.

No problems were reported at other schools in the city where the Holi festivities appeared to have gone well.

District spokeswoman Karen Corona said last week that the high school’s executive director, Chris Chank, sent an email early Friday morning to staff members explaining that Holi is a national holiday in India, Guyana and in other countries where “people play with different colors, which can be a powder or a liquid.

Schenectady has many students of Guyanese descent, and Hinduism is among the common religions seen in this community.

“It’s a happy occasion, but it’s important to remember that participation in the Holi celebration or playing with colors is voluntary,” Chank wrote, warning celebrants to be respectful because “many people choose not to play with colors”.

The email partially ends by reminding everyone that if students choose to participate in Holi, it should be on the streets and/or school grounds, not inside the building.

On Wednesday, Corona said in a follow-up text that students who celebrated Holi during the first two lunch periods should go to class on the third lunch if it was not their usual lunch and that “the third lunch received lunch as usually”. She attributed everything that happened to a “misunderstanding” and urged students to discuss it with their administrator.

Still, Corona said the district is considering eventually making Holi a holiday during the 2022-23 academic year so all students have it. Principals must approve any changes.

School board chair Cathy Lewis did not return calls Tuesday for comment.

A Schenectady High School teacher, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation for speaking out on the matter, said several administrators stood guard outside the cafeteria before the third lunch period.

“There is a lot of shock hearing that the children were refused entry for lunch because you wouldn’t discriminate if someone was wearing a Christmas jumper and wouldn’t let them in, so why should- it be otherwise, and you can’t refuse lunch as a punishment – ​​none of these things are what we want to stand for as a school and as a community,” the teacher said.

The educator said the incident is not a good look for a diverse urban school district that touts culturally appropriate teaching.