SHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury School Committee approved the district’s calendar for next year, which includes both Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day on Oct. 10.
This came despite the effort of over 100 community members who signed a petition asking the Shrewsbury School Committee to omit Columbus Day from the calendar and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day outright.
Superintendent Joseph Sawyer recommended during the School Committee’s Feb. 16 meeting that the district continue to list the two holidays in a combined form on the calendar.
“The calendar listing holidays does not endorse a particular holiday or the origin or name of that holiday,” Sawyer said. “I certainly understand that there are those who petitioned the School Committee that see that differently regarding that symbolic action, but again I don’t believe it’s coupled with what we do in the classroom, which of course we should do with great accuracy and care.”
This recent petition was the latest in a series of requests to change the name of Columbus Day on the school calendar over the past several years.
Last year, Shrewsbury resident Sanam Zaer asked for the change, noting similar actions in other schools. That move, she said, would “signal a commitment” to teach history in a more inclusive and accurate way.
Ultimately, the school combined Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the calendar.
“I think we took an inclusive approach last year for this year’s school calendar by acknowledging Indigenous Peoples’ Day along with Columbus Day,” said Chair Jon Wensky on Feb. 16.
This latest petition specifically noted that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about “celebrating people.”
“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.
Wensky said he respected the petitioners’ perspective.
“While I recognize this is a holiday on the school calendar that we’re talking about, I don’t believe that this is something for us to decide,” Wensky said, noting that Columbus Day is a state holiday and the reason there is no school on the second Monday in October, each year.
Wensky said the School Committee received about 15 emails about Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day in days before their Feb. 16 meeting.
“Ensuring that our schools are places where everyone feels like they belong is centrally important to me,” said School Committee member Lynsey Heffernan, who served on the town’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force.
She continued, “That said, I think what we teach in our buildings is not connected to what we put on a label on a calendar.”
Petition asks to replace Columbus Day on Shrewsbury school calendar