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A Step Towards Inclusiveness: New York’s Hicksville Public Schools Declare Diwali as Holiday

The Hindu Indian-American community have welcomed the inclusion of Diwali, most popular of their festival, as holiday by Hicksville Union Free School District (HUFSD) in New York State

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Representational Image. Source-Pixabay
New York, Mar 28, 2017: About 3 million Hindus reside in USA. The Hindu Indian-American community have welcomed the inclusion of Diwali, most popular of their festival, as holiday by Hicksville Union Free School District (HUFSD) in New York State on its School Calendar for 2017-2018, thus closing schools and offices on October 19, as reported by Merinews. HUFSD operates ten schools.
Nearby Syosset Central School District, East Meadow School District, Half Hollow Hills Central School District, East Williston Union Free School District and Herricks Union Free School District all recently declared Diwali as an official holiday. Mineola Union Free School District announced that no home work or examinations would be given on Diwali, reports suggest.
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Rajan Zed, distinguished Hindu statesman and President of Universal Society of Hinduism, had said that, that this decision is a step in the right direction and had further urged all other public school districts and private-charter-independent schools in New York State to do the same.

Zed, had said that it’s a positive thing to do in view of presence of a substantial number of Hindu students at schools around the state, as it was important to meet the religious and spiritual needs of these pupils. He had said that, without an official holiday Hindu students would be in an unnecessary disadvantage for missing tests/examinations/papers, assignments, class work, etc., by taking a day-off to observe Diwali.

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If schools had declared other religious holidays, why not Diwali, Zed asked. Holidays of all major religions should be honored and no one should be penalized for practicing their religion, Zed added

Zed noted that awareness about other religions thus created by such holidays like Diwali would enable New York State students to be well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow.

Zed urged New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York State Education Department Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia, to work towards adding Diwali as an official holiday in all the 728 school districts, and persuading the private-charter-independent schools to do the same.

Zed thanked HUFSD Board of Education President Phil Heckler and other Board members for supporting Diwali holiday.

Prepared by Upama Bhattacharya. Twitter @Upama_myself

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NY to make Medication-Assisted Treatment Available to all Jail Inmates Struggling with Opioid Addiction

Laura Levine says she never smoked a cigarette or touched a drink until age 35. Then the mother of five tried heroin, and she was hooked

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Laura Levine prepares to dispense drugs at Vocal NY, an organization that works with addicts, where she is the health educator and coordinator for the opioid reversal drug Narcan, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, March 15, 2019. VOA

Laura Levine says she never smoked a cigarette or touched a drink until age 35. Then the mother of five tried heroin, and she was hooked.

After some brushes with the law — petty larceny to support her habit — she was booked into Nassau County jail and withdrawal started kicking in. As the nausea, shaking and sweating grew worse, she began pleading with guards for help.

“They kind of laughed and said, ‘You’ll be fine. Nobody dies from heroin withdrawal,’” said Levine, who is in recovery and now works to help others struggling with opioids. “I would rather give birth to all five of my children again without medication than go through withdrawal again.”

More help for people like Levine could be on the way, as lawmakers in New York are considering a measure to make medication-assisted treatment such as methadone or suboxone available to all prison and jail inmates struggling with opioid addiction.

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FILE – Family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Conn., Aug. 17, 2018. VOA

States across the country are considering similar approaches amid research that shows that the drugs along with behavior therapy can help addicts reduce the withdrawal symptoms and cravings that drive many addicts to relapse.

Federal statistics suggest more than half of all inmates in state prisons nationwide have a substance- abuse problem. New York officials say that percentage could be as high as 80 percent in state and local lockups, which at any given time have about 77,000 inmates.

Drug policy experts point to the success of a similar program in Rhode Island, which has seen a sharp drop in the number of former inmates who died of overdoses, from 26 in 2016 to nine last year.

Other successes have been reported in local jails in Louisville, Kentucky; Sacramento, California and in Massachusetts.

“It makes no sense that people who have a public health issue don’t have access to medicine,” said Jasmine Budnella, drug policy coordinator at VOCAL-NY, a group that advocates on behalf of low-income New Yorkers on such issues as criminal justice, drug policy and homelessness. “In the U.S., we talk about human rights but we are literally torturing these people.”

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FILE – Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter speaks at a news conference in Oklahoma City, April 26, 2017. Oklahoma is one of at least 13 states that have filed lawsuits against drugmakers, alleging fraudulent marketing of drugs that fueled the opioid epidemic. VOA

Two years ago, 24-year-old Matt Herring died of a drug overdose after years of struggling with addiction and bouncing in and out of correctional facilities. His mother, Patricia Herring, said Matt once tried to smuggle suboxone into jail in order to avoid the horrors of withdrawal. Guards found the medication and took it away.

Patricia Herring has now become a self-described “mom on a mission” to push for greater resources for addiction treatment in correctional facilities.

“If he had been given medication-assisted treatment when he entered, I don’t know, maybe things would have been different,” she said.

With no organized opposition, the debate over supporting medication-assisted treatment in correctional settings comes down to dollars and cents. Some counties have paid for programs in their jails; others have not. A total of six state and local lockups in the New York City area, for example, have limited drug-assistance programs for opioid addicts.

Albany County became the first county in the state outside of New York City to offer medication-assisted treatment. Sheriff Craig Apple said he’s become a believer.

“It took me a while to get on board with this, but we’re already seeing early success,” he said.

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Drug policy experts point to the success of a similar program in Rhode Island, which has seen a sharp drop in the number of former inmates who died of overdoses, from 26 in 2016 to nine last year. VOA

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A state budget proposal from Democratic Gov. Andrew would spend $3.75 million to expand access in county jails, and use more than $1 million to expand its use in state prisons. Democratic leaders of the state Legislature have called for more, and advocates say they want to see at least $7 million in the annual budget.

A decision is expected before April 1, when the new budget is due.

“Addiction is a disease,” said New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who is sponsoring the drug-treatment legislation. “We should treat it like a disease.” (VOA)