Randolph schools drop Columbus Day, all holiday names on calendar
UPDATE 6/15: The calendar issue will be taken up — again — during a special meeting on Monday evening, the Randolph Board of Education has announced.
RANDOLPH — Weeks after swapping Christopher Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day caused a community uproar, a North Jersey school district has instead adopted a generic listing for all days off in the 2021-2022 school year.
Public reaction, in turn, has viewed the changes as having gone from bad to worse.
Some community members now have called for the entire Board of Education and Randolph Schools Superintendent Jennifer Fano to resign.
The board of education meeting on Thursday erupted in anger multiple times, with adults in-attendance yelling in reaction to comments at different points before and after a 90-minute public comment session.
There also was a small group who walked out as one woman called the board members "disgusting," amid tension during public comments, as seen in video posted to Youtube by New Jersey Hills Media Group.
Most of those who had signed up to speak, including Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, were critical of the omission of Columbus Day from the calendar.
The Board of Education Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee had recommended the calendar change that was acted on in May.
While that motion had been “proper and lawful,” a board member said at Thursday's meeting, the committee has since decided it would have been better to give notice beforehand and apologized to residents for not bringing more attention to the issue before the vote.
“I regret that this issue has become so upsetting to people,” another board member said on Thursday, after the hour-and-a-half of public comments had ended.
Several members of the board also apologized for previously voting without such public comment, and said they had been unaware of the passion that Italian-Americans hold for Columbus Day as a holiday.
When one board member suggested taking all holiday names off the calendar, there were also outbursts of comments from the crowd, who continued to shout sporadically as the board hammered out a new plan.
Every single day off would just say “day off,” removing all named holidays — including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving and President’s Day — from being listed on the calendar, the board collectively decided.
There was discussion among board members that the move would not change the day being off and that students would be free to celebrate the day as they see fit.
The new motion was passed, after which a man sitting in the crowd can be heard yelling “what just happened right now,” followed by “What’s the reason why they would have a day off,” in the recording of the meeting.
“Jen Fano and all of the Board of Education Members have disgraced our community and clearly do not have the best interests of our children in anything they do,” according to the summary of an online petition started on Friday by Thomas Tatem.
The petition continued “They represent everything that is wrong in education today and are completely incompetent in every aspect of their role.”
Among more than 1,900 people ho had signed the online petition as of Sunday, multiple public comments mentioned “cancel culture.”
Another comment said that not having Easter and Christmas being written on the school calendar was a “disgrace.”
The Randolph public school calendar has not listed any religious holiday other than Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur dating back to at least 2016, based on online records, even before Thursday's vote.
Randolph Township Mayor Mark Forstenhausler released a written statement Sunday, as quoted by the Randolph Reporter that he was "deeply distraught over the current division in our township."
"I do not agree with, or support, the Board of Education's decision removing all holidays' names from their calendar as it does not respect all cultures, religions and our veterans," Forstenhausler also said, noting that the board was a separate governing body than the township council.
The idea of observing Indigenous Peoples Day, which recognizes Native Americans as the first inhabitants of the land that later became the United States of America, has been taken up by several communities in the past few years.
Newark has been observing Indigenous Peoples Day since 2017, as the holiday also appears on the city's school district calendars.
Last fall, Montclair also added Indigenous Peoples Day to its public school calendar, as approved by the Montclair Township Board of Education at a September 2020 meeting.
Princeton municipal officials voted in 2019 to observe Indigenous Peoples Day, but the Princeton School District calendar online does not note either as a holiday for this or next school year.