It’s Columbus Day—at least, in some places.
In recent years, communities and school districts across the country have moved to rename or eliminate the celebration of the controversial explorer from their annual community calendars.
In August, Los Angeles became the latest major city, along with Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Seattle, to officially rename the Columbus Day holiday, “Indigenous Peoples Day,” the Washington Post reports. In 2014, Seattle Public Schools was also one of the first school districts in the nation to declare “Indigenous Peoples Day” in its classrooms. Since then, several school districts have followed suit.
Changes to school calendars, including listing or delisting holidays, might seem like an easy thing to do. In reality, school calendar changes are among the most controversial decisions school leaders can make.
Take the story of Levittown Public Schools in Long Island, N.Y.
In June, the local school board approved a plan to print the year’s school calendar listing only the designated holiday dates, but not the names of the holidays, according to an op-ed by Lane Filler in Newsday.
The aim was to avoid public outcry over the annual observance of certain holidays, such as Columbus Day, by choosing not to identify holidays by name.
Alas, controversy came anyway.
After announcing its decision in mid-August, the district was inundated with criticism on social media. Critics blasted the decision, attributing the decision to extreme political correctness. Soon after, Filler says, the district reversed its decision. It now plans to reprint the calendars with the names of the holidays listed.
Filler suggests schools use annual calendar and holiday controversies as a teaching opportunity to explain reasons and motivations behind different school holidays and to educate children about different cultures and points of view.
“School districts are here to educate and inform. Taking information off calendars does the opposite. That Columbus Day is Oct. 9 this school year and Good Friday is March 30 and Yom Kippur falls on Sept. 30 are facts… At best, most educational calendars would have more such listings, not fewer. Who wouldn’t want to know more about all kinds of important days?”
While the issue of school calendars may seem trivial in the face of bigger challenges, the Levittown example shows how sensitive parents and other community members can be to such decisions. It also emphasizes the importance of communicating and seeking feedback on potentially controversial decisions ahead of time.
Have you faced a calendar controversy in your school or district? Tell us in the comments.