Beacon Schools Undecided on Columbus Day – Highlands Current

Board forms committee for further discussion

The Beacon school board will create a committee comprised of board members, district administrators, students and members of the public to decide whether to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day on school calendars. 

President Meredith Heuer said during its Jan. 9 meeting that the board had received 70 emails after announcing in the fall that it would consider renaming the holiday, which takes place on the second Monday in October. Other districts in the region have made the change to honor Native American tribes who predated Christopher Columbus, but there has also been pushback. 

In the Highlands, the Haldane, Garrison and Newburgh districts recognize a combined Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The New Paltz district uses Indigenous Peoples’ Day, while New York City schools last year announced a change but eventually went with Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

On Jan. 9, six Beacon district residents asked the board to change the name; three others felt it should remain Columbus Day. 

Amy Farid, a member of the Osage nation of Oklahoma and a Rombout Middle School parent, said that her people had suffered “injustice and hatred for merely existing,” and that Columbus had committed “nothing short of murder, torture and slavery” in colonizing the “New World.” The district must teach students the “true and painful history of colonization” without celebrating Columbus, much like it does not celebrate Adolf Hitler, she said. 

But Joe Baffuto, a Beacon High School graduate and school district parent and volunteer, said he is proud of his Italian descent, which inspired him to become a member and now president of the Beacon chapter of the Sons & Daughters of Italy. Each year, the group sponsors a scholarship for at least one graduating senior of Italian American descent. 

Baffuto asked whether the district is prepared to remove St. Patrick’s Day from the calendar because of the struggle between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. “Do we abolish the Thanksgiving holiday because the pilgrims invaded Indian territory?” he asked, noting that Aug. 9 is celebrated as International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. 

After hearing from the public, Heuer suggested forming the committee to continue the conversation. That format might be more effective than leaving the decision to the nine board members, she said. 

“It would be much more meaningful in the end, whatever solution we come to,” Heuer said. “I respect the diversity of Beacon and I want it to be a conversation of diverse opinions.”

The board’s Public Relations, Advocacy and Legislative Committee will discuss next steps at its meeting at Beacon High School at 6 p.m. on Monday (Jan. 23). The meeting is open to the public. 

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