Surprised to learn that public schools in San Francisco still celebrate Columbus Day, the Board of Education scrubbed the holiday off the academic calendar on Tuesday to appease Native American students in the district.
Far less radical school districts than the San Francisco Unified School District have ditched Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous People’s Day since the holiday was first proposed 40 years ago and first adopted by Berkeley in 1992, according to the Indigenous People’s Day Committee.
Yet a program serving Native American students in the SFUSD listed ridding the district of Columbus Day among their top three priorities at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.
School board member Matt Haney recoiled in shock when he realized that the SFUSD still had Columbus Day on the books for Oct. 22 alongside Indigenous People’s Day. Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who is credited with sparking Native American genocide.
“I thought that we would have joined cities and school district all across the country and made a clear and permanent change,” said Haney, who sparked national controversy last semester when he suggested the district rename schools bearing the names of slave owners.
At some point since 1992, the school board made Oct. 22 Indigenous People’s Day in the SFUSD but — perhaps by administrative error — Columbus Day was left on the calendar, according to Haney.
“Anyone who has looked closely at the history knows that Christopher Columbus is not someone that we should honor in any way let alone with a day of recognition in our schools,” he said.
By coincidence, the Board of Education was already slated to approve the academic calendar when the issue came up Tuesday. The school board unanimously agreed to remove Columbus Day from the calendar, according to Haney.
As for his belief that schools shouldn’t be named after slave owners or other men of questionable histories, Haney still has plans to introduce a resolution reminding school communities that they can change their school names.
Perhaps James Denman Middle School may want to rebrand itself.
A resolution passed at the school board Tuesday reminded Haney that the school is named after a superintendent who closed a night class for Chinese students in 1871 and questioned the “legality and propriety of expending the public funds to educate… young [Chinese] men.”
“At some point I’m going to bring the conversation back,” Haney said. “At least just to let schools know that there is a process available and the school board is open to them pursuing that process.”