A school district got rid of Columbus Day. It didn’t stop there.



A month ago, a school board in a northern New Jersey suburb followed the lead of at least six other states and dozens of municipalities when it unanimously voted to rename Columbus Day to Day. indigenous peoples.

Contempt followed, prompting the district to approve an extreme workaround intended to sidestep the complicated terrain of identity politics in an increasingly polarized nation: School vacations would no longer be labeled on the district calendar at all.

Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, Veterans Day, and the second Monday in October – whatever it is called – would instead be marked only as the “day off” from school in Randolph, a township about 40 miles south. western New York.

Then, on Wednesday, the school board said it was considering a full about-face, scheduling a meeting next week to consider a resolution that would restore all holiday names, including Columbus Day, to the neighborhood calendar.

“Their attempt to address diversity has essentially caused the division,” said State Senator Anthony M. Bucco, a Republican who represents the township. “By trying to do everything vanilla, you lose that sense of diversity. “

The controversy arises as the country seeks to recognize historical figures seen as symbols of white supremacy. Following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, statues of Columbus and Civil War leaders were defaced, toppled or removed in cities across the country.

Last month, New York City, which operates the nation’s largest school system, in the face of criticism after first trying to rename Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples. In response, the city also attempted to divide the difference: the second Monday in October is now labeled Italian Heritage Day / Indigenous Peoples Day on school calendars.

Randolph’s convoluted back and forth can in itself hamper students ‘understanding of Columbus’ role in history, the treatment of Native Americans and the origins of the holiday, said Leslie Wilson, professor of history at Montclair. State University in New Jersey. who spoke on panels to rename Columbus Day.

“Now the kids don’t know what to believe,” said Dr Wilson. “Everyone is confused. “

A spokesperson for Randolph Township schools said board members would have no comment until Monday’s meeting. The superintendent, he said, had no involvement in the naming decisions of the vacations and would also have no comment.

The resolution – the only point of new business on the agenda for next week’s meeting – states that “the Board of Education hereby rescinds the actions taken at the June 10, 2021 meeting, removing the names of all holidays from the school district calendar.”

Randolph, a wealthy Morris County township of about 25,000 people, is 80 percent white; no resident identifies as Native American, according to most recent census data available. There are four recognized Native American tribes in New Jersey, including the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation, which is based in the northern part of the state.

the initiative to rename Columbus Day would have resulted from a recommendation of a local diversity and inclusion committee.

The board approved the name change on May 13, after minimal discussion, then backtracked earlier this month.

One in line petition the past month drew more than 1,100 signatures and comments criticizing the “awakened” cancellation culture. A second petition The call for the immediate resignation of the superintendent and members of the board of directors generated more than 4,000 signatures and a wave of media attention.

The board said its decision was “misinterpreted” and the meaning of the nameless vacation would still be taught.

“Schools will still be closed on the days we originally approved and our children will know why,” the board said in a statement Sunday. declaration.

Senator Bucco was among those who spoke out against Columbus Day’s renaming at last Thursday’s boisterous board meeting. He said he was encouraged that the school calendar could restore the names of all state and federal holidays.

“If they want to add Indigenous Peoples Day to the calendar, then do so by all means,” he said. “But don’t violate the civil rights of Italian Americans by taking away only them.”

Columbus Day is celebrated as a federal holiday on the second Monday in October since 1971, according to the Library of Congress, but has been observed for centuries. The first recorded celebration took place in New York City in 1792. In 1892 then-President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation recommending local celebrations, in part in response to anti-catholic and anti-italian feelings and the murder of 11 Sicilian men in New Orleans.

New York and New Jersey are home to the country’s largest population of residents who identify as Italian-Americans.

Ten miles north of Randolph, a section of Interstate Route 80 is named Christopher Columbus Highway.

“You can’t revise history,” said State Senator Joseph Pennacchio, a Republican who has been a strong supporter of keeping the Columbus Day holiday alive and statues tribute to the controversial explorer.

Although Columbus, who is said to have been born in Genoa, Italy but sailed for Spain, is often credited with discovering America, he never set foot on the continental United States. Millions people were already living in North America in 1492, and those opposed to the holiday being named after Columbus note that his journey encouraged centuries of Native American exploitation.

Dr Wilson said Columbus’s important contributions to exploration and trade should be taught alongside his role in enslaving the original inhabitants of the islands he colonized.

“I think we don’t understand the real Columbus because we never understood it,” he said. “We learned the poem and never got beyond it.”

In 1990, South Dakota became the first state to rename Native American Day.

At least five other states and 130 towns and villages have since renamed the holiday in honor of indigenous peoples, and the governors of several other states have issued Executive orders that remove Columbus Day from state calendars.

In New Jersey, Newark and Princeton observe Indigenous Peoples Day, but a statewide effort last year to rename Columbus Day collapsed; New York City still hosts the largest Columbus Day parade in the country.

In October 2019, as Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, marched in the parade, Native Americans gathered for a two-day celebration on Randalls Island.

A similar Indigenous Peoples Day in New York is slated for October, a year that also saw the country’s first Native American appointed to a Cabinet-level agency. Deb Haaland, a representative of Congress from New Mexico and a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, took over the Home Office in March.

It is unclear what will be decided on Monday when the Randolph school board meets. The resolution under consideration states, in part, that the district will revert to the school calendar “as it existed prior to the May 13, 2021 council meeting” and add any additional state and federal holidays that had not been listed.

On Friday, for example, New Jersey will first recognize Juneteenth as a public holiday, in commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.

Senator Pennacchio, who is Italian and raised in Brooklyn, said he fought to preserve Columbus Day in order to recognize the important contributions of Italian Americans to the country.

“It is a symbol,” he said, “of the hard work Italo-Americans have put into this country.”



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