- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — For World War II veteran Sam Stia, a legislative proposal that would cease requiring New Jersey schools to teach about Veterans Day and Memorial Day can be summed up in two words.

“That’s wrong,” Mr. Stia, 83, said from his Hamilton home, where he flies an American flag at half-staff to honor fallen soldiers. “We’re just giving our flag away and our patriotism away.”

Mr. Stia and other veterans are steamed about the proposal, which state lawmakers unanimously passed last month. It now awaits action by the governor. It was included as part of a larger measure designed to help control property taxes, mostly by abolishing some laws on school purchasing and public hearings.

Other holidays about which schools no longer would be required to teach include Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Arbor Day and Commodore Barry Day, which commemorates Revolutionary War hero John Barry.

New Jersey schools must observe the holidays under a 1967 law designed to promote “the development of a higher spirit of patriotism.” Florida, Nebraska and Washington are among states with similar laws.

New Jersey American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars groups have asked Gov. Jon Corzine to veto the bill so schools still have to teach about Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

“It’s not right. They’re not going to know the sacrifices that were made so they can enjoy the protections that they have,” said Hank Adams, New Jersey VFW adjutant and an Army and Coast Guard veteran.

The governor hasn’t decided how to proceed. “We’re reviewing that bill,” Corzine spokesman Anthony Coley said.

The law wouldn’t ban schools from holding holiday commemorations, but requiring schools to honor the days guarantees children would learn about veterans, said Ray Zawacki, department adjutant for the American Legion of New Jersey.

“If it wasn’t for veterans, we wouldn’t have been able to maintain the freedoms the Constitution provided to us,” said Mr. Zawacki, a Vietnam War Navy veteran.

Mr. Zawacki said schools frequently ask veterans groups to send speakers into schools before the holidays.

But state Sen. John Adler, a sponsor of the bill, cited a 2004 report by a state commission that recommended giving schools more flexibility to decide holiday observations. He questioned whether schools even bother to recognize the holidays.

“I don’t believe that most schools fulfill the spirit of the law and the mandate,” he said.

Mr. Adler said he understood and respected the veterans’ concerns, but argued that curriculum, not state mandates, should drive instruction.

“I don’t think the state should be in the business of telling districts to do every single thing,” he said.

New Jersey school officials support the bill.

“It’s simply time and flexibility,” said Mike Yaple, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association. “There’s nothing in the legislation that can undermine the amount of pride and honor a community feels toward their veterans.”

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