South Windsor school board unanimously approves Indigenous Peoples Day

Olivia Regen, Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn.
·4 min read

Feb. 27—SOUTH WINDSOR — Board of Education members unanimously approved renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, and observing the holiday the second week in October.

But the vote at Tuesday's school board meeting was not without initial reservations from some board members who questioned why the change was needed, arguing they did not receive enough information on the measure. Those reservations led to an amendment, which ultimately was rescinded, to delay approving the name change.

The final vote in favor was made with the adoption of the 2021-22 school calendar. The calendar also includes celebrating Diwali on Nov. 4, one of the major holidays known as the "festival of lights," celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. There were no reservations to approving that holiday as board members said they received a presentation on Diwali but not the same materials on Indigenous Peoples Day.

RENAMING

WHAT: The Board of Education unanimously adopted the 2021-22 academic calendar.

DETAILS: The calendar includes the first day of school on Sept. 1. It also renames Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day to celebrate the contributions of Native Americans.

"This is something I really struggled with since it has been on our agenda," said school board member Marek Kozikowski. "It seems like the right thing to do but I don't understand why we are making this change."

Kozikowski said he understood why the district would want to move away from honoring Christopher Columbus for the "negative contributions he made to our" country.

Columbus' exploration of the New World led to the deaths of Native Americans and the introduction of the slave trade to the Americas.

But even so, Kozikowski said he did not understand the proposal, explaining it was not made clear why the holiday should be renamed Indigenous Peoples Day.

School board member Art Adduci said he wis not against moving away from celebrating Columbus, but felt there should be two separate holidays: one celebrating Italian Americans and the other Indigenous Peoples Day.

While there was no presentation given on Indigenous Peoples Day, there was a memo from the Equity Committee explaining the need for the change in the holiday as well as 11 testimonials from staff. The idea was introduced to the school board in December and there was also information given at the Jan. 26 meeting.

The idea is not new and has gained momentum across the country to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day to honor the contributions of Native Americans. Eighteen states now observe Indigenous Peoples Day in place of or in addition to Columbus Day, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Superintendent Kate Carter said she was surprised there was not much discussion at Jan. 26 meeting, misinterpreting it to mean there was more support for the measure. She asked for further clarity on what the objection was to the name change.

Carter said the recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day is "designed to be responsive to a history that was largely misinterpreted to many of us growing up."

Kozikowski initially proposed an amendment to the motion to approve everything in the school calendar except for the name change to Indigenous Peoples Day to be determined at a future meeting.

The amendment then passed 5-4 with school board members Kozikowski, James O'Brien, Michael Gonzalez, Beth Esstman, and Adduci voting for the amendment change and Jessica Waterhouse, Michael Pare, Craig Zimmerman, and Anitha Elango dissenting.

Pare said he was struggling with understanding the need to delay the vote.

"Christopher Columbus was stripped of his titles by the Spanish for his crimes against humanity and yet we celebrate him in America," he said.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Tracie Peterson said Indigenous Peoples Day is creating the "idea of a window to look through and learn more about others.

"This discussion is the epitome of the things you said you are committed to which is equity," she said. "Equity is standing in the place for those who can't stand for themselves and speak for themselves."

Gonzalez said listening to Peterson's words and others about the holiday made him understand why it was needed.

But even so, he said he did not want to be rushed on such a decision.

After hearing a discussion about the importance of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day, Kozikowski rescinded his amendment and voted for the change, which passed unanimously.

Kozikowski said Thursday that based on the testimony from the administration and honest conversation from other board members he felt comfortable moving forward.

Pare said Thursday he did not feel this vote should have been controversial.

Carter said in an email Wednesday, "If we are to promote culturally responsive schools, it is important to adopt a culturally responsive calendar that serves the needs of our students and families."

For more coverage of East Hartford and South Windsor, follow Olivia Regen on Twitter: @OliviaRegen, Facebook: Olivia Regen JI, and Instagram: @ORegenJI.