New York City public schools have ditched Columbus Day, its Department of Education announced this week in a controversial decision criticized afterward by local Democrats and Republicans alike.
City schools will still be closed on the second Monday in October, but not in the name of honoring Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who made several voyages to the Americas centuries ago.
Instead, the Department of Education said that students will have off from school that date for Indigenous People’s Day in recognition of the Native Americans who first called the future U.S. home.
The switch was rebuked soon after the city released its calendar for the 2021-2022 school year Tuesday, however, and within hours the date appeared differently on the Department of Education website.
Sometime later Tuesday, the New York City Department of Education website was updated to say that public schools will be closed in recognition of “Italian Heritage/Indigenous People’s Day” on Oct. 15.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, told reporters early Wednesday that neither he nor the head of the city’s school system had been notified before Columbus Day was dropped for Indigenous People’s Day.
“I certainly didn’t hear about the change, nor did the chancellor, so we spoke about it and we both agreed this was not the right way to handle things,” Mr. de Blasio said during a press conference.
“I think saying it’s a day to celebrate Italian-American heritage is absolutely right and appropriate, and that’s the way to talk about it and to think about it,” said Mr. de Blasio, an Italian-American. “I think also saying, as has been done in many parts of the country, it’s a day to think about history and honor indigenous people as well. I agree with that, too. So the process wasn’t right, but the end result is going to be a day to honor Italian-American heritage, a day to honor indigenous people, I think that’s a good way forward.”
Prior to rebranding the date to recognize both indigenous people and Italian-Americans, the New York City Department of Education drew rebuke from local Republicans for having ditched Columbus Day.
“Columbus Day has long been a celebration of Italian-American history & culture,” New York City Councilman Steven Matteo, a Republican whose constituents include residents of the Mid Island neighborhood in Staten Island, said in a statement on social media. “It is, frankly, insulting that the DOE has unilaterally decided that Italian-Americans are no longer worthy of recognition.”
New York City Councilman Joe Borelli, another Staten Island Republican, initially slammed the swapping of Columbus Day for Indigenous People’s Day as “insulting woke nonsense” from the school system.
Later, after it became apparent the school holiday would recognize Italian-Americans as well, Mr. Borelli criticized that decision, too.
“They tried, they got caught, they changed it, they covered the mistake. Cowards. Just have the gumption to cancel the day,” Mr. Borelli said on the social media service Twitter.
Columbus Day has been considered a federal holiday in the U.S. since 1971, although multiple states and cities have decided in recent years to recognize the date as Indigenous People’s Day instead.
Starting in 1492, the voyages made by Columbus led to the colonization of the Americas and, in turn, the violent removal of indigenous people from their homeland through forced displacement.