The Randolph school board voted last month to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day on the school calendar.
That prompted widespread condemnation in this affluent, Morris County town, a petition drive and a stormy board meeting Thursday night.
At the end of a lively three-hour plus session, the board “solved” the problem by getting rid of all holidays.
That’s right, the board said it would stop noting all holidays on the school calendar. From now on, they will be labeled simply as “day off.”
So in a matter of weeks, the second Monday of October has transitioned from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day to nothing in the Randolph school community.
Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and all other school holidays will meet the same fate. The change won’t impact Christmas, which already is part of “winter break,” and not individually noted.
One board member hoped that the move would eliminate “hurt feelings.”
That seems unlikely.
Opponents of the original change told the board that dissing Columbus was an insult to Italian heritage and even a form of discrimination.
“Don’t spit on my grandfather’s grave,” is how one person put it.
State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, whose 25th District includes the township, addressed the board at the start of the meeting.
He said changing the name may have been an attempt to promote diversity, but the move has had the opposite effect.
“Really, what you have done is create division,” Bucco said.
Columbus Day is not a new controversy.
More than 500 years after his arrival and a generation removed from his heroic portrayal in many history books, just what type a man Christopher Columbus was is hotly disputed throughout the nation.
To some, he remains a legendary explorer and revolutionary thinker – a man who, contrary to the wisdom of the day, knew the earth was round.
To others, he was a tyrant who enslaved thousands.
With this minefield, it’s hard to see why the school board made the original change the way it did. It was voted on in May with no notice to the public.
As one resident told the board, “You should have known” the move would prompt opposition.
Unfortunately, it looks like the board didn’t know that. School boards tend to be rather insular these days and, as we are seeing in Randolph, that can be problematic. There never is a good reason for a public body to avoid public debate.
The Thursday meeting was the board’s first in-person, post-pandemic, session and more than 100 people attended.
One resident who supported the board’s initial move called Columbus a “murderous colonizer.”
That was a minority view. In addition to the need to recognize Italian-Americans, some speakers waded into the nation’s cultural debate by accusing the board of catering to the views of Black Lives Matter and other radical groups. More than once, the board had to urge people to show respect or threaten to have police remove them.
The tenor of the night’s audience, notwithstanding, Randolph is no right-wing hot spot.
Like much of changing Morris County, it’s very much a “purple” town. While Republicans remain foremost in local government, both Joe Biden and Democratic Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill won the township last fall.
Prior to the board’s vote, there was talk about labeling the second Monday of October in honor of both Columbus and Indigenous people. Or maybe just Italian Heritage Day,
But that didn’t fly.
So beginning with the 2021-22 school year in Randolph, all “holidays” will be listed as “day off.”
That prompted one disgruntled resident to wonder aloud how you can close schools without saying why.