The school board in Randolph Township in Morris County, New Jersey, has reversed a decision to erase all holiday names from the school calendar following backlash from parents.
Randolph’s Board of Education on Monday night voted to restore the names of holidays, admitting in a statement that the decision was made “without proper consideration.”
“The very essence of education is to learn, to grow and to apply lessons learned,” the district said, promising that in the future, a review committee will seek community input before proposing any changes to the calendar.
Earlier this month, the board unanimously approved to no longer mark holidays by their names on the district’s 2021-2022 calendar, meaning that all public and religious holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Yom Kippur, will simply be listed as “days off.”
The move came in response to a previous effort to replace Columbus Day with an “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in the name of “equity and inclusion.” The renaming attempt triggered intense opposition from members of the school district community, especially those of Italian ancestry.
“I would like to think that the removal of Columbus Day was simply based on a lack of understanding,” Franco Piarulli, a parent, told the board at a public comment session, reported NJ Advance Media. “Either that or Italian Americans are simply not part of your definition of inclusion.”
The board members defended the decision to strip names of the holidays off the calendar, saying that no holiday will be able to offend anyone anymore if their names are left blank.
“If we don’t have anything on this calendar, then we don’t have to have anyone [with] hurt feelings,” said board member Dorene Roche.
The district’s calendar, following the restoration, still lists Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
A debate over Columbus Day and the legacy of Christopher Columbus, the Genoa-born navigator whose unsuccessful expedition to Asia opened a new age of European exploration and expansion, is becoming more heated in New Jersey and New York, the top two states in terms of Italian American population.
In May, New York City’s Department of Education announced that students on Oct. 11 will be celebrating “Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day” instead of Columbus Day. The holiday was labelled as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in an initial release of the 2021-2022 calendar, upsetting several city and state legislators, including state Sens. Diane Savino and Joe Addabbo, both Democrats of Italian ancestry.
“Their insensitive decision to eliminate Columbus Day, which is a legal, Federal holiday from their calendar and substitute it with Indigenous People’s day does a terrible disservice to a difficult and complex conversation,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “In one block-headed decision, they have harmed both communities and fanned the flames of division.”