Veterans Day no longer day off for Stamford students

Ignacio Laguarda, Staff Writer - 1/25/2024

STAMFORD — Columbus Day and Veterans Day will no longer be days off for Stamford students after a vote by the Board of Education Tuesday night.

Both days, which are currently days off from school in Stamford, had been proposed as in-school days last year as well. But after push-back from local veterans and Italian-Americans, both remained untouched

Neither was proposed to be cut this year until Tuesday's meeting, but member Joshua Esses made a motion to take each off the calendar for the next two school years. It passed by a vote of 5-3, with board president Jackie Heftman absent. In favor were Esses, Michael Hyman, Gabriela Koc, Versha Munshi-South and Antonia Better-Wirz. Members Andy George, Becky Hamman and Michael Larobina voted against the measure.

Esses argued that the proposed 181-day school calendar lasted too long — into mid-June — which is why he suggested also eliminating the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr and the second day of Rosh Hashanah as days off, a motion that received no support from the rest of the board. State law requires students be in school 180 days.

"We should make it shorter because it’s better educationally for our students," Esses said, of the calendar.

He said both Veterans and Columbus Days could be observed by students in school through curriculum.

Each holiday would still be recognized in the educational content provided on each day, a requirement under state statute. The statute that governs the educational content of Columbus Day and Veterans Day also forbids school districts from not observing federal holidays that fall in December or January, such as Christmas, New Year's Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For other holidays, however, the statute leaves the decision up to the school board.

The school calendar had previously been discussed on Jan. 9, during a meeting of the board's Labor Committee. Munshi-South suggested eliminating Columbus and Veterans Day at that meeting. 

"I can't imagine that we have many students on Columbus Day who are observing Columbus Day with their families," she said at that meeting, in which members voted 3-2 to support the proposed calendar, which at that time included Columbus and Veterans Days as days off.

Munshi-South said she observed a class at Dolan Middle School this school year and the title of one lesson was "Columbus: Hero or Villain?"

"The students were using primary sources to investigate the true history of Columbus and I can tell you that, based on primary source research, no, they did not conclude that Columbus was a hero," she said, later adding, "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."

At the same meeting, Hamman expressed concern for the curriculum Munshi-South described.

"There’s a lot of polarization with curriculums, so to paint Columbus as a villain is because of the polarization and I think we can't be doing that publicly," she said, later adding, "I look at Columbus as a hero."

The Columbus holiday has become a controversial one across the country in recent decades as many have reconsidered the explorer's legacy and actions, particularly his treatment of the native populations he encountered. Indigenous Peoples' Day was created in the 1990s as an alternative holiday held on the same day as Columbus Day to honor indigenous American populations and as a rejection of celebrating the Italian explorer.

movement to take down the Stamford monument of Columbus gained steam in 2020 as groups across the country fought to remove memorials to Columbus and to Confederate leaders from public spaces — an extension of the mass protests that were set off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that year. The Stamford statue was not taken down, after local Italian-Americans fought to maintain it.