Columbus, Veterans Day Removed From Stamford Public Schools Calendar

STAMFORD, CT — Students and staff in Stamford Public Schools will no longer have days off for Columbus Day and Veterans Day, at least for the next two school years.

The Stamford Board of Education on Tuesday voted 5-3, with Board President Jackie Heftman absent, to remove the holidays from the school calendars for the 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 school years.

Those in favor were Joshua Esses, Michael Hyman, Gabriela Koc, Versha Munshi-South and Antonia Better-Wirz. Andy George, Becky Hamman and Michael Larobina voted against it.

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According to state statute, individual school districts have local control over closing for holidays that fall on a school day outside of December and January.

However, if classes are held, the board of education requires that each school hold “a suitable nonsectarian educational program in observance of each holiday.”

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Last year, there were some conversations early in the calendar planning process about removing Columbus Day and Veterans Day from the calendar, but the school board received pushback from the community and the holidays remained, as in previous years.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Esses put forward a motion to remove the two holidays, plus Juneteenth, the Muslim holiday Eid-Al Fitr, which was just added to the calendar as a day off last January, and the second day of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

Esses said he felt the school year, which stretched into mid-June, was too long.

“The school year as proposed is too long. I think we should make it shorter. We should make it shorter because it’s better educationally for our students,” Esses said. “It’s not about picking favorite holidays or celebrations, it’s about what works best for the education of every child in our district, and I think there are some relatively costless ways that we can go about making the district and the school year five days shorter.”

An amendment was made to Esses’s motion to keep Juneteenth. His motion to remove Eid-Al Fitr and the second day of Rosh Hashanah did not receive support from fellow board members.

Earlier this month, the Board of Education Labor Committee briefly discussed removing Columbus Day and Veterans Day, but no motions were made and the proposed calendars with the two holidays included passed by a vote of 3-2, which sent the item to the full board for consideration.

In that Jan. 9 meeting, Munshi-South explained that the first few months of school are critical for instruction and that it’s important to keep education as uninterrupted as possible.

“We have amazing veteran programming that happens in our building. Let’s do that on Veterans Day. I don’t really see why we do that for the day before Veterans Day and also have Veterans Day off,” she said.

She added that, “I can’t imagine that we have many students on Columbus Day who are observing Columbus Day with their families.”

Munshi-South also said she observed a social studies class at Dolan Middle School this school year and said the title of a lesson was, “Columbus, Hero or Villain?”

“The students were using primary sources to investigate the true history of Columbus. I can tell you that, based on primary source research, no, they did not conclude that Columbus was a hero,” Munshi-South said. “I don’t think it makes sense to teach students one thing in class and then have Columbus Day off. It’s a mixed message for students.”

Hamman pushed back on the suggestion to remove the two holidays.

“We need to be respectful of Stamford. Stamford is a city where many immigrants came from Italy,” she said earlier this month. “There’s a lot of polarization with curriculums. To paint Columbus as a villain is because of the polarization. I think we can’t be doing that publicly… I look at Columbus as a hero.”

On Tuesday, Hamman reiterated her views, saying that a special committee on calendar planning worked extensively on putting together the proposed calendars with input from the school community.

“I have to speak for Columbus Day. It is very much a part of Stamford, Connecticut, and I certainly would be opposed to taking out Columbus Day,” she said. “Veterans Day, I need to speak up for all the veterans. I realize this is something that you’re just putting on the table now, Josh, but I know the committee spent a good two months, three months working through some of those details. I’d suggest maybe we consider that down the road, but not for this calendar year.”

In September 2020, CBS News reported at least 33 Christopher Columbus statues had been removed around the country since Black Lives Matter protests began that spring.

Locally in Stamford that summer, there was a push to remove the Columbus monument in Columbus Park.

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