A school board in Connecticut decided this month that students should be in school on Veterans Day and Columbus Day for the upcoming two school years.

While a Stamford Public Schools committee had proposed the board keep the two holidays in the 2024-25 and 2025-26 academic calendars as days off, the board decided against that in a 5-3 vote Jan. 23.

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The board discussed the calendars a committee had drafted for the upcoming two years’ calendars. The committee had slated the two days as being days off for the district, but the board’s fiscal chair and parliamentarian Joshua Esses, a Republican, successfully motioned to remove those days off.

Esses said he believed the school year is already too long and it would be better for students to come to school on those days.

The board’s TLC chair, Versha Munshi-South, a Democrat, said it is better for students and their learning to have the school be in session those days.

Board Vice President Michael Hyman, who is a Democrat and has family members who are veterans, said that, when done right and as he hopes, having school in session on those days would allow for a robust understanding about both. Very few students understand what Veterans Day and the founding of America are about.

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“I don’t think that this motion says that we should not celebrate those two days in some way,” he said.

Board member Rebecca Hamman, another Republican, voted against the motion after saying that Columbus Day is very much a part of the community and that she wanted to “speak up” for veterans. The committee that proposed the calendars took substantial time to work through the details of creating the calendars, so she asked that the board consider those changes for a future year.

Hamman said current curriculums are vastly different than what she was taught. They do not present all the facts. Christopher Columbus is no longer a hero or valued member of the exploration time period. She wanted community members to examine curriculums before the board would remove the days from the calendars.

Stamford Public Schools public affairs office member Kathleen Steinberg told The Midwesterner via email Jan. 30 that the duties of local and regional boards of education in Connecticut include approving school calendars, and the state gives the boards discretion to keep schools open on federal holidays except those in December and January.

The December and January ones are New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and Christmas, according to state statute. The state requires school boards to require each school on the federal holidays they are open to hold “a suitable nonsectarian educational program” to observe the holiday.

“Stamford Public Schools will continue its tradition of honoring local veterans with school-based events that we can now host on Veterans Day itself,” she said. “In addition, our Teaching and Learning Department will be developing programming about Columbus to be shared with students on Columbus Day in 2024-25 and 2025-26. As the calendar was just approved last week, we don’t have details on what form this programming will take in 2024-25 and 2025-26.”

Steinberg said many neighboring districts are also open on some federal holidays, including Columbus Day and Veterans Day.

According to Steinberg, who has a child in the school system, the district’s schools are very thoughtful and deliberate in how they acknowledge Veterans Day. For example, her child’s elementary school hosted an all-school assembly for veterans who were family members of students and staff. Each grade worked on a project like writing poems, performing songs or creating artwork that they presented to veterans who attended the assembly.

“It was an opportunity for the students to explore concepts like heroism and gratitude while honoring those who served our nation,” she said.

Examples from 2023 of how the district’s students celebrate Veterans Day were featured in a Nov. 15, 2023, edition of the school’s Shout Outs e-newsletter, which can be found here.

Steinberg said the district’s social studies curriculum follows the State Department of Education Social Studies Framework, which was developed by a statewide team of social studies teachers and integrates civics, economics, geography and history.

“Columbus is currently covered as part of the social studies curriculum for all students in kindergarten, fifth, and seventh grades,” she said. “Students may also encounter Columbus in the curriculum of various high school social studies courses.”

ABC7 reported that Albert Fusco, a veteran and a founding member of the Stamford chapter of Italian American service organization UNICO, called removing the holidays from the days students take off “a gut punch.”

“What happened on October 12, 1492, the discovery of America, is the most significant event in the history of the human race,” Fusco said in an interview with ABC7.

Fusco also was among those who protested a board proposal in December 2022 to remove Columbus Day as a school holiday, according to Stamford Advocate. In 2020, a group of Italian Americans successfully fought to keep a statue of Columbus in a city park.