May 5, 2021 By Ryan Songalia
New York City has unveiled the public school calendar for 2021-2022 and it includes a new holiday and a change to Columbus Day.
The Department of Education in making the announcement also said that there would be no snow days in the upcoming school year, noting that students will be switched to remote learning in days of poor weather.
The holiday of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., has been added to the calendar. Meanwhile Columbus Day has been replaced with Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The loss of snow days, however, caught many by surprise and prompted much conversation.
The DOE said that it had to get rid of snow days to ensure that students get their required 180 days in class while observing all scheduled holidays.
“The pandemic has also created the ability to switch seamlessly to remote learning, and DOE central and schools have distributed hundreds of thousands of devices to ensure that learning can continue remotely during school closures,” the DOE said in a statement.
Maya Wiley, a candidate for mayor, tweeted “snow way!,” while promising to allow students to enjoy a bit of winter wonderland should she be elected.
“Under a Wiley administration, snow days will be snow days,” Wiley tweeted.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a former South Bronx school teacher, reminisced fondly about playing football as a kid during snow days.
“Let the kids play. Or make money shoveling snow…,” tweeted Bowman, a freshman congressman. “Let them have a mental health day. We need those more than ever after a global pandemic.”
Tiffany Cabán, a candidate running for city council from Astoria, also tweeted her dissatisfaction with the decision, saying “Let kids have snow days.”
Felicia Singh, a city council candidate from Ozone Park, teaches at a public charter school in Brooklyn. She says the switch to remote learning during snow disadvantages students with learning disabilities.
“Choices like these make it clear that we need leadership that has experienced the impacts of those decisions, and the courage to fix them with urgency,” Singh said.
The replacement of Columbus Day proved to be an even more contentious issue for some– especially Italian Americans.
Columbus, the explorer who was born in Italy, is revered by some as a symbol of Italian pride and achievement– hence the holiday. However, his legacy has come under fire in recent times, with critics pointing to his role in the mass killing of indigenous people and in the slave trade.
Robert Holden, the city councilmember in District 30, called the decision to change the name a “disgraceful insult” to Italian Americans.
“There’s room to celebrate everyone’s heritage in this city,” said Holden, who described himself as being of Italian heritage.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a long-time defender of Columbus Day, called the holiday a celebration of Italian-American heritage, and says it will still remain a state holiday.
“You don’t have to exclude Italian-Americans to celebrate Native Americans,” Cuomo said at press briefing Wednesday.
“Why do you feel the need to diminish the Italian-American contribution to recognize the indigenous peoples’ contribution? It’s not one or the other.”
Juneteenth will be observed on June 20. It was declared a state holiday last year.
The first day of school for students will be Sept. 13 while the last will be June 27.