By ERIN ROLL
Juneteenth will now be an official holiday on the Montclair school calendar, and Oct. 12 will be marked on the school calendar as Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day.
And in early February, the schools will have in-school days of action related to Black Lives Matter.
The Montclair Board of Education agreed on Sept. 21 to make the three changes to the 2020-2021 school calendar.
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19 that the Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. It was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official in January 1863.
On Sept. 10, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law adding Juneteenth to the list of official state holidays in New Jersey.
The new holiday will be observed on the third Friday in June, and students and teachers will be off for the day.
The first week of February, which this school year will be Feb. 1-5, will be designated as an in-school Week of Action for Black Lives Matter.
“We are an inclusive district and choose to recognize these new dates on our district calendar – Juneteenth, Indigenous Peoples Day and Week of Action for Black Lives Matter. They do not impact the school calendar. We celebrate and respect our diversity and different cultures and welcome opportunities for recognition,” Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said.
Juneteenth has taken on renewed interest in 2020 amid the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Montclair, Juneteenth was the day on which high school students from across Essex County gathered for the Student Blackout: a rally and celebration that was co-organized by students from Montclair High School and Montclair Kimberley Academy.
“Commemorating this date is just one component of our collective approach to end a generational cycle of pain and injustice that has gone on for far too long,” Murphy said. “Every Juneteenth, we will celebrate the end of the physical chains which once held Black Americans down. While more work lies ahead to undo the oppression that remains, Juneteenth is an important marker that reminds us of our mission to create a society that enables our Black communities to achieve the full equality which they deserve.”
New Jersey is now the sixth state to mark Juneteenth as a state holiday.
Proponents of renaming Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day say it is in remembrance of the atrocities that were committed upon Native American tribes with the arrival of Columbus and other explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries.
In addition to Montclair, Newark has Oct. 12 on its school calendar as Indigenous Peoples Day. But many of Montclair’s neighboring districts, including Bloomfield, Nutley and Cedar Grove, still have the day marked as Columbus Day.
At least 10 states and the District of Columbia observe Indigenous Peoples Day as of 2019. However, the move has seen pushback, particularly from some in the Italian American community, who say that Columbus Day is a celebration of Italian American heritage.
Columbus Day is still listed as such on New Jersey’s list of official state holidays.
The Montclair school calendar currently has nine statutory holidays during the school year, and schools are closed on all of those days. Schools are required to be in session for students for at least 180 days, under New Jersey state law. Montclair’s schools usually have 183 student days in a given year, and the original calendar for 2020-2021 had 183 student days and 187 staff days. With the addition of Juneteenth as a holiday, the revised calendar shows 186 staff days and 182 student days.
The Black Lives Matter Week of Action, which began during the 2017-2018 school year in Philadelphia, is a national project organized by Black Lives Matter at School, which focuses on racial justice and equity in the classroom.
During the Week of Action, from Feb. 1-5, participating schools will focus on discussing and learning about Black history and culture, institutional racism, civil rights and anti-racism movements, and about how to take actions that will promote equity and fairness in schools.