Stonington school board reverses Columbus Day name change

New London

STONINGTON, Conn. (WTNH) — “I still want the board to return Columbus Day to the calendar versus Indigenous People Day. I do not believe in deconstructing history,” said one woman at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting in Stonington.

“There [are] plenty of other Italian people that we can celebrate. Robert De Niro day or Joseph Verdi or just like anyone besides Christopher Columbus,” said a man who also spoke Thursday in response to the board’s vote back in June to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, which was recommended by the school system’s Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion committee.

“The DEI committee said that. So I thought fine,” explained school board secretary Heidi Simmons, who was chairing the June meeting. 

But she says she realized the next day it wasn’t fine for a deluge of people who called to tell her they were upset about the holiday change. 

Just over the border, the Christopher Columbus statue in Westerly now stands behind a metal fence, and she says she hadn’t realized how her constituents also felt about the Italian explorer. 

So at the meeting on Aug. 12, she introduced a motion to restore the Columbus Day holiday.

“My motion was to go back to square one,” said Simmons.

She wants to give the public a chance to weigh in before any further decision is made.

“When we were being taught this ‘oh he was a wonderful person, look what he did for us’ and then you find out what really happened and you’re like ‘no, I don’t think I really want that to be named for that day’ so maybe a different name?,” said Stonington parent Wendianne Caraballo.

The vote to restore the holiday to Columbus Day was 3 to 2 however one of the school board members tells News 8 he is of Italian decent and voted against it, which would have tied it up. 

But he was on the meeting remotely and says his vote wasn’t recorded. The Chairman of the Board of Education says the vote is now under review.

Simmons expects there could be a future public hearing about the October holiday.

“Many view points could come out and it could be much more educational,” said Simmons.

In the meantime, she is happy to hear, more than just a day, indigenous people will be part of the yearlong curriculum in the school system.

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