The Janesville School Board unanimously voted Tuesday to send to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards a resolution to add Indigenous People’s Day to the state’s list of school observance days.
The resolution, authored by board member Cathy Myers, will now go to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards committee that considers such proposals. If it makes it through the committee, it would be voted on during the state’s school board convention in January.
Earlier this year, the local school board’s Policy, Personnel and Curriculum Committee discussed the observance of Columbus Day.
A number of cities and states have decided to celebrate an Indigenous People’s Day instead of or in conjunction with Columbus Day.
Critics of Columbus Day point out that Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America, nor did he ever reach mainland North America, and his treatment of indigenous people included torture, genocide and enslavement.
Historians don’t dispute those facts; reports of punishment and enslavement of native peoples came from Columbus’ own diary and letters.
Columbus Day is one of 21 required special observance days included in state statutes, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
The Janesville School District “does not promote or endorse a specific resource or curriculum for the observance day,” according to a memo from Allison DeGraaf, the district’s director of learning and instruction. The memo was included in the board’s agenda packet.
“The School District of Janesville does not endorse Christopher Columbus as a positive role model, but educators and historians cannot ignore the significance of his impact on North and South America,” DeGraaf wrote. “It is our hope that we can foster historical critical consciousness in students with the support of parents and the community.”
Even if the resolution does pass the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, it would be up to the state Legislature to add Indigenous People’s Day to the list of required observance days.