Beacon Schools Undecided on Columbus Day

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. 

2 thoughts on “Beacon Schools Undecided on Columbus Day

  1. Why engage in endless debates when it involves a brave historical figure who never set foot on an inch of what is now the U.S.?

  2. Agreed, this woke cancel culture needs to end. Someone will always be offended by something we say or do. We recognize people for the good and evil they bring to the world. We shouldn’t dismiss great accomplishments because it hurt feelings or even societies. Should we stop speaking English because they were so mean they taxed us? Can you find a place on this planet where war never happened or nobody was offended by the actions of another? Please people, grow up! We all hurt people, even the ones we love most.

    It is Columbus Day, George Washington’s birthday, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, Veterans Day, and so on. Valentine’s Day is around the corner, should we all stop recognizing it because you had a fight with you partner or you don’t have one?

    Please, stop this! Do the Indigenous people call themselves that, or do they identify as American Indians? They are recognized as members of Indian Nations by our government.

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