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Williamsville schools soundly reject Indigenous Peoples' Day

The second Monday in October will continue to be observed as Columbus Day in the Williamsville Central School District.

A proposal to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day on the district calendar was rejected by a wide margin Tuesday night by the School Board.

Board President Toni L. Vazquez, who initiated the proposal in October, cast the sole vote in favor of the change.

The other seven board members in attendance voted against the proposal. One member was absent.

The end of six months of debate on the change took an emotionally charged turn.

Just prior to the vote – and knowing her proposal was doomed to defeat – Vazquez lambasted fellow board members during nearly 10 minutes of remarks, in which she accused them of being weak-willed when the issue became divisive among the district community.

"It's clear this board became uncomfortable when things were not so neat and orderly," she said. "I would be untrue to myself if I allowed my fellow board members to go unchecked."

She went on to say students' recommendations on the proposal were being ignored and the holiday name change was "no more than a symbolic gesture."

"I thought this would be a great time to take a bold stance," Vazquez said. "I thought Williamsville could be a pillar of inclusive teachings and a change agent that other districts would want to mimic."

Vazquez was then cut off when Board Member Teresa Anne Leatherbarrow invoked Robert's Rules of Order and forced a vote.

After the vote, the board voted to take a recess.

The largest suburban district in Western New York, with about 10,000 students, Williamsville would have followed several smaller districts and communities in designating the day to recognize the history and culture of Native Americans.

Vazquez had made the suggestion after seeing a presentation put together by students at Niagara Wheatfield School District, which last year changed the name of the holiday.

"I thought surely Williamsville would be equally as upstanding," Vazquez said Tuesday. "It is after all simply our district calendar. The holiday will remain the same on the national stage."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937, but it is a Buffalonian — Mariano A. Lucca, a crusader for Columbus — is credited with Columbus Day's being designated as an official Monday federal holiday in 1971.

Peter LoJacono, a district parent and president of the Federation of Italian-American Societies of WNY, applauded the School Board's decision and said the board had given the proposal "due diligence."

"This was not a decision that was made overnight," LoJacono told The Buffalo News after the vote. "Careful thought was given to both sides, and I'm very pleased with the result."

Earlier, before the vote, he had reminded the board that Native American Heritage Day is the Friday after Thanksgiving.

"We should teach our children not to call it Black Friday for shopping, but the fact that it's Native American Heritage Day," said LoJacono, one of several who spoke out publicly against the proposal. "That's what should be taught."

The board had been scheduled to discuss the proposal further Tuesday night, but at the beginning of the meeting decided to hold a vote.

The School Board on Tuesday night also reviewed a first draft of the 2017-18 student calendar. On it, Oct. 9 is listed as Columbus Day.

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