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New Jersey school board restores Columbus Day and other holidays after criticism over their removal

·4-min read
Portrait of Christopher Columbus from the Naval Museum in Madrid, 19 May 2006 (AFP)
Portrait of Christopher Columbus from the Naval Museum in Madrid, 19 May 2006 (AFP)

A school board in New Jersey reversed its decision to remove holiday names from its calendar after a rowdy meeting where hundreds of parents called for their resignation for almost four hours.

The Randolph Township Board of Education removed religious, military and ethnic names like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and Colombus Day in what Italian-American families said was an attempt to erase their history and indoctrinate their children into a Marxist ideology.

As board president Tammy MacKay prepared to pass a motion to reverse the decision and asked "where are we now, where are we tonight", calls from the crowd yelled for her resignation.

"Really?" she said as the room erupted in cheers. "I’m going to finish, so…"

Ms MacKay apologised for the move while questioning the political motivations behind how their school board became a national news story seemingly overnight. School board meetings across the country have become flashpoints in a campaign against “critical race theory” being used to inform curricula without community consultation.

"I can assure you that I did not intend and I do not believe that any member of this board intended to insult or disrespect the ancestry or heritage of an Italian-American or anyone else," Ms MacKay said. "I would also like to apologize to those who believe that this board is disrespected or disregarded."

The 10 June vote to remove all holiday names and replace them with “day off” came after backlash for the board’s renaming of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. It led to a Change.org petition demanding the board resign, with creator Tom Tatem appearing on cable news networks like Fox News to say the board was pushing its ideological agenda without consulting parents.

Board member Ronald Conti said they started with the best intentions to be more inclusive to the district’s students and families, but that it became a "political bomb" with outside groups to blame for the board landing on a grenade.

"The actions of select groups outside of the board of education, seized the opportunity and exploited this discussion and through various news organisations making Randolph school calendar ground zero for a national political debate," he said.

But for almost four hours on Monday night, regular residents, parents and families expressed their frustration at having the school board dictating their personal ideologies rather than taking into consideration the community’s views.

They included Kathleen Mahoney, a former Randolph school employee of 33 years who worked as a school psychologist.

"Our school district provided in-service to the staff on multiculturalism, that was a board administrative dictate, and we were taught as staff members, to value each child as an individual," Ms Mahoney told the school board she once worked under.

"In the words of Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, we need to be kind to each other, we need to value history, and we need to respect ethnicity, not erase it."

Another local resident, Kiara, said she has suffered discrimination as an Italian-American who "couldn’t be trusted" because of the stereotype they’re all involved in crime, and that people pushing their own agenda into the school district would lead to increased prejudice.

"Some forget how a person is not defined by their skin colour, religion, political beliefs and ethnicity, so some forget to love and start to judge," she said.

"Sometimes some forget about injustice and discrimination faced by a lot of ethnic groups as they came to the United States for a new life, one of these groups being Italians just because in today’s society we label them as white."

John Sharples, whose daughter goes to the school in Randolph where Monday night’s meeting was held, said he woke up one morning and found his town had been turned into a "nationwide embarrassment".

"I do feel the need to remind you that you were elected to further the town’s people, who elected you, values into the school system, and not your own," he said.

Randolph Township Schools Director of Communications, Matthew Pfouts, said in a statement to The Independent that the board is grateful for the feedback.

"The very essence of education is to learn, to grow and to apply lessons learned. The last few weeks have showcased a concerned community, an interested public and a responsive Board of Education that acknowledged a decision made without proper consideration," he said.

"In the future, a review committee will seek community input on any proposed calendar changes."

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