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District 87 Steps Up Opposition To Columbus Day As State Holiday

WGLT file photo
Superintendent Barry Reilly speaks during a District 87 school board meeting. The board met Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, at Bloomington High School Auditiorium. The larger space was intended to allow for better social distancing during the pandemic.

District 87 could remove Columbus Day from its school calendar, in a symbolic gesture to demonstrate its opposition to the state’s legal holiday.  

On Wednesday, the board heard the proposal that calls for the 2021-22 school calendar to stop labeling the second Monday in October as “Columbus Day--No School.” Instead, that day simply would be grouped as one of 19 “non-attendance” days on the calendar.

The board is expected to vote on the change at its Feb. 10 meeting.

"This is to send a message that we understand. We're hearing from the community about making that something that reflects Indigeneous Peoples' Day," said Superintendent Barry Reilly.

He said because the state lists Columbus Day as a holiday in the Illinois School Code, District 87 can’t officially drop it, and instead mark that day as Indigeneous Peoples’ Day.  However, Reilly said it's no secret the district has for some time opposed celebrating the controversial 15th century explorer.

Reilly and District 87 Board President Brigette Gibson said they support a legislative push to change the law. 

"If that recommendation came from the superintendent to the board, I would totally support it," said Beasley.

Reilly said he would advocate on behalf of District 87 students in supporting the Bloomington City Council's resolution passed this week specifically about that issue.

Reilly said when some of the district’s older students asked to talk with him about  their  opposition to celebrating Columbus, he encouraged them to reach out to local state representatives to push that at the state level.

He also noted many people don’t realize District 87 is considered the 3rd most diverse school district in Illinois; about one of every four students is Black, and nearly 15% are Latino.

"That surprises a lot of people, especially those that live here. So, in recognition of that diversity this is just one thing," he said.

Reilly noted about five years ago, the board waived several state observed “days-off” holidays, including Columbus Day. The district intended to make it a normal school day as it did for others such as Veteran's Day. 

However, it turned out Bloomington High School hosts a popular regional music festival annually on that day, so it was decided to continue allowing students to have that day off on each school calendar.

Reactions to Unit 5 switch to 5-day school week

Reilly said neighboring school district Unit 5’s decision to return to a 5-day school week for its pre-K through 5th grades has generated questions from some District 87 families. 

But at this point, there are no plans to change the current hybrid and remote options for District 87, he said.

“Our ultimate goal would be nothing less than getting all students back,” in school buildings, five days a week, said Reilly. But he said commitments were made at the beginning of the year to follow Centers for Disease Control and the Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines. 

Currently, those call for social distancing at least six feet apart. “The reality is, if we brought 60 to 65 percent of our students back,” we couldn’t do that, said Reilly, who also discussed continued efforts to allow teachers and other Phase 1B eligible residents to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

He said while District 87 does not require employees to get the vaccine, the administration wants to ensure these essential workers who do want the vaccine can access it. 

“Those numbers are important. And I can advocate on their behalf,” Reilly said.

Next week, District 87 plans to survey employees to gauge interest, and whether people are finding success in getting the vaccine in McLean County, he said. 

“Supply is an issue (in this county), and it will be for a while,” he noted.

Diversity Equity and Inclusion Team expands

Reilly said a decision this summer to move forward with racial justice programs, continues. The board voted to create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team (DEI) this fall. Now, with a mix of faculty, staff and community members, it numbers 75, he said. 

“I’m psyched about this,” he told the board, noting ISU education professor Shamaine Bertrand, who specializes in multicultural education, has led the group’s formation.

DEI committees will begin meeting in February and for the foreseeable future, he said.

Wednesday’s school board meeting was held at Bloomington High School auditorium, to allow for social distancing measures. Masks were required. 

In other business, the board:

  • Learned Project Oz, through the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority, has awarded District 87 a one-year grant to provide additional Project Oz staff in Bloomington Junior High School, and Irving and Sheridan elementary schools. The grant provides work with restorative justice issues. 
  • Approved minor changes to several of its board policies.
  • Heard an investment report from Commerce Bank, regarding the district’s medical trust, Judge Scott Trust, and District 87 Foundation. 

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