SHREWSBURY – Over 100 community members have signed a petition asking the Shrewsbury School Committee to omit Columbus Day from the school calendar and add Indigenous Peoples’ Day in its place.
The petition was received in October and discussed last week as part of the School Committee’s deliberations about the school calendar for next school year.
The draft calendar currently lists Oct. 10 as Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
That, petitioners say, is an “oxymoron.”
Indigenous Peoples’ Day conversation continues
Shrewsbury has discussed potentially changing the name of Columbus Day on its school calendar for at least three consecutive years now.
Last year, community member Sanam Zaer asked that the district make the change, noting similar actions in other schools and saying that such a move would “signal a commitment” to teach history in a more inclusive and accurate way.
Superintendent Joseph Sawyer recommended the combined Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day naming at the time.
Controversy lingers, though.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day, this year’s petition notes, is about “celebrating people.” It would replace a holiday in Columbus Day that thinks about someone who caused or tried to cause “the genocide of an entire population,” petitioners said.
“By bringing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we’re bringing awareness that we’re not going to allow someone like Columbus to be glorified into a hero because of the hurt that he caused to Indigenous people of America,” the petition said.
Superintendent Joseph Sawyer said during the School Committee’s Feb. 2 meeting that there are questions to consider. The name “Columbus Day” marks the official state holiday that requires schools to close on the second Monday in October.
Additionally, he asked whether listing the official name of a state holiday on the calendar affected how the schools taught history.
“There are different issues that swirl around this piece, but were raised by a number of constituents,” Sawyer said. “It’s important to recognize that they have these concerns.”
School Committee member Lynsey Heffernan said she appreciated Sawyer’s “thoughtfulness” around the naming of the holiday.
“I look forward to hearing if there are comments from the public at large for us to consider over the next couple weeks,” she said.
Draft calendar changes December break schedule
The draft calendar was presented to the School Committee during their Feb. 2 meeting.
The first day of school would be Aug. 30, and the last day, if there aren’t any snow days, would be June 15.
The draft calendar additionally pushes the start of the December vacation to Dec. 23.
This year’s holiday break technically started on Dec. 24. But, Sawyer said, there was a “very significant percentage” of students absent.
“Our principals recommend that we not have school on Dec. 23 this coming year given where it falls again in order to not have a day where we have that kind of challenging attendance,” Sawyer said.
Other communities have also scheduled their calendars with no school on Dec. 23, which Sawyer said would pose a childcare challenge for staff members with children in those districts.
The committee may vote on the calendar during their Feb. 16 meeting, which is set to begin at 7 p.m.