Portrait of a man said to be Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Open Access)
The Board of Education in Randolph, N.J. voted unanimously on Thursday to remove the names of all holidays from the school calendar in favor of a neutral “Day Off” title.
The decision came in response to the backlash the board faced after changing the name of the Columbus Day holiday on the school calendar at a meeting last month. The initial name change led to phone calls and emails to board members, according to TAPinto.
On Thursday, a motion was made to remove the names of all holidays that mention ethnic or religious groups, as to not exclude or offend any other group.
However, the board then decided to vote on removing all holiday names, including Memorial Day, in favor of calling them “Day Off” as some groups are still “left out” of the existing holidays.
The crowd grew outraged after the vote. Some in attendance yelled, “What just happened? What did you just do?”
The decision comes as a number of schools nationwide have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, including New York City public schools, which is the largest school district in the U.S.
Protestors have torn down and vandalized statues of Christopher Columbus, an Italian Renaissance-era explorer often credited with being the first European to discover the Americas. A growing number of critics have called for Columbus Day to be eliminated or renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day, upset at the celebration of what they see as Columbus’s subjugation and mistreatment of the New World’s native population.
Members of various Italian American organizations, including UNICO and the Knights of Columbus, attended Thursday’s meeting to criticize the decision to rename Columbus Day.
New Jersey state Senator Anthony Bucco was one of 125 people who attended the meeting, many of whom asked the board to reconsider their Columbus Day decision.
Speakers at the meeting explained the meaning and importance of Columbus Day to Italian Americans and argued that historians had painted Columbus in a negative light.
A former student also spoke about Italian discrimination throughout history, including when a racist mob killed eleven Italian men in New Orleans in 1891.
Some community members criticized the board for approving the Columbus Day name change in a motion that was not on the agenda and not discussed in depth. Board members acknowledged that the public outcry revealed it was a bigger issue than they previously believed it to be.
However, many who attended the meeting hoping to have “Columbus Day” reinstated left shocked and disappointed when the board made the unexpected and unorthodox decision of renaming every holiday “Day Off” on the calendar.
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