RANDOLPH, N.J. — A small-town school board meeting Monday was home to the latest flashpoint in the big debate over America’s complicated history..
The hot topic of discussion was the school board’s controversial decision made keep school holidays but nix their names — now, students and staff just get “days off.”
The saga began with the school board’s move last month to rename Columbus Day Indigenous People’s Day.
It’s a trend playing out across the country: a reconsideration of the legacy of Christopher Columbus.
Long characterized in history books as a noble explorer, the Italian has more recently been scrutinized as someone who enslaved and brutalized the Indigenous peoples he encountered during his voyages to the Americas.
“What is clear is that glorifying his name pushes our kids toward siding with oppressors. No one is deleting Columbus from the curriculum,” a veteran educator who supported the board’s decision said. “We can acknowledge why we stand on this soil, without putting the people who stole it on a pedestal.”
But there are millions of Italian Americans who not only reject allegations of Columbus’ atrocities, but consider Columbus Day as a celebration of Italian-American pride.
“Be truly inclusive and stop pitting one group against another,” said an opponent of the board’s decision. “I call on you to restore the second Monday of October to Columbus Day. I call on you to respect our civil rights, and I ask you for an apology to Italian Americans.”
It was in response to the outrage on both sides that the Randolph School Board decided last Thursday to stop naming holidays altogether, arguing the change would be both “inclusive and equitable.”
Andre DiMino, an executive board member of the Italian-American One Voice Coalition, is calling for the board to reverse both of its decisions.
“Columbus is an apology — an iconic symbol to Italian Americans, as an apology or an atonement, for the discrimination and denigration that they suffered in the late 1800s and 1900s,” DiMino said. “This is now excluding everybody. I mean, it’s really just the wrong thing to do. It’s hurtful to everyone. They’ve insulted everyone. It started with Columbus Day, but it migrated into really just changing everything. It’s really going after the underpinnings of our country.”