The decision to nix Columbus Day from the San Francisco Unified School District calendar last month came not with a bang but a whimper in The City.
But the news apparently struck a chord with Italian Americans in Washington, D.C., who wrote a scathing letter Feb. 2 that singled out Board of Education Commissioner Matt Haney for his “particularly unsettling” comments about Christopher Columbus.
Kevin Caira, president of the social justice commission for the Order Sons of Italy in America, wrote that Columbus was “a man whose courage is not only admired by thousands of [Italian Americans] but citizens of other ethnicities as well.”
“San Francisco has a very large Italian-American population,” Caira wrote. “For nearly a century, Columbus Day has been an opportunity for us to celebrate our ancestors and the struggles they overcame to assimilate into American Culture.”
First reported by the San Francisco Examiner last month, Haney said he was surprised to learn that Columbus Day was still on the calendar because Columbus “is not someone that we should honor in any way let alone with a day of recognition in our schools.”
Columbus was an Italian explorer and colonizer who sparked Native American genocide after arriving in the Americas in 1492.
Caira called on the school board to reconsider its unanimous — and hasty — vote to remove Columbus Day, leaving Indigenous People’s Day as the only holiday celebrated in schools every Oct. 9.
The decision was not a calendered item but came up serendipitously at the school board meeting Jan. 24, after a group representing Native American students in the district said one of its top priorities was wiping the holiday off the calendar.
By chance, the board was scheduled to approve the academic calendar for next school year that same day.
That’s why the Sons of Italy want the school board to place the removal of Columbus Day on the agenda — for public discussion.
“For you and your board to remove Columbus Day without making it an agenda item and allowing our voices to be heard embraces the values that this country wasn’t founded upon,” Caira wrote.
The letter is addressed to school board President Shamann Walton.
As for Haney, he said he has no plans to revive the issue.
“I’d be happy to talk with them about how we can ensure that the contributions and experiences of Italian Americans are included and celebrated in our schools and curriculum,” Haney said in a text message.education