In a bold move that has ignited a firestorm of debate, the Stamford, Connecticut school board has decided to redefine its holiday calendar, eliminating Veterans Day and Columbus Day. This decision, made during a recent school board meeting, has left students and communities divided over the future of these traditional holidays.

The controversy began when board member Joshua Esses introduced a motion to remove Veterans Day and Columbus Day from the official school calendar. His argument was centered on the length of the school year, which, according to state law, must include a minimum of 180 teaching days for students. Esses contended that the extended school year, ending in mid-June, was not conducive to optimal learning.

While Esses proposed a similar action regarding the religious holidays Eid al-Fitr and the second day of Rosh Hashanah, those suggestions received no support from the board.

Esses assured the concerned parties that the decision didn’t mean abandoning the significance of Veterans Day and Columbus Day altogether. Instead, the school district planned to celebrate and educate students about the meaning behind these holidays on the actual days, as mandated by the state.

Despite these explanations, the decision has ignited an uproar among veterans and Italian Americans. For many, the removal of Columbus Day felt like a double blow, especially given the ongoing debate about Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ controversial history and the growing preference for Indigenous People’s Day.

Alfred Fusco, a veteran and founding member of Stamford’s chapter of the Italian American service organization UNICO, expressed his dismay, calling it a “gut punch.” Fusco’s sentiment echoed among others who felt that the decision disregarded the cultural significance of Columbus Day.

However, not everyone on the board shared the same viewpoint. Board member Versha Munshi-South, for example, cited a class lesson titled “Columbus: Hero or Villain?” at Dolan Middle School as a reason to rethink the holiday. She argued that the conflicting messages students received in class and during the day off created confusion.

Conversely, Becky Hamman, another board member, defended Columbus as a hero and believed that polarization over the issue should not sway their decision.

The Stamford school district defended its choice by highlighting that other districts in the state already keep schools open on Veterans Day and Columbus Day. They assured the community that they would continue to host events in honor of local veterans and develop educational programming about Columbus Day.

This decision has generated impassioned discussions about the evolving significance of holidays and the role of education in shaping our understanding of historical figures like Columbus. As Stamford Public Schools prepare for the 2024 and 2025 academic years, it remains to be seen how this change will impact students and the broader community.

In a time when the interpretation of history and tradition is evolving, the Stamford school district’s decision has opened the door to an important conversation about how we commemorate our past and the values we uphold as a society.