CPS board accused of breaking law by dumping Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans said if the Chicago Board of Education won’t rescind its decision, the group would exhaust “every legal procedure possible” to overturn it.

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Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), one of the City Council’s two Italian-American aldermen, speaks at a City Hall news conference Wednesday.

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), one of the City Council’s two Italian-American aldermen, speaks at a City Hall news conference Wednesday where the Joint Civic Committee for Italian-Americans demanded that the Chicago Board of Education rescind its “illegal” decision to dump Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

The Chicago Board of Education broke the law by dropping Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day because there was no prior notice of the change, Italian American civic groups said Wednesday, demanding that the “insult” be rescinded.

The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans stopped short of threatening a lawsuit. The group would only declare last week’s vote a violation of state law and the Open Meetings Act and vow to exhaust “every legal procedure possible” if Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s hand-picked school board refuses to reverse its controversial decision.

“According to our attorneys, the Chicago Board of Education violated its own code and the Illinois State Board of Education code in how they passed this … because there was no notice. It clearly states that in the state statute, and also by the rules of government meetings,” said Lissa Druss, a committee spokesperson.

A Chicago Public Schools official flatly denied the law was broken.

“Proper notice was made in compliance with the Open Meetings Act and the vote was appropriately taken,” said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton.

Sergio Giangrande, president of the Italian American committee, said the decision to dump the “sacred” holiday of Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day was an affront to Italian Americans who have “endured horrific discrimination and continue to be defamed in popular culture.”

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Sergio Giangrande, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans, says Italian-Americans were “once second-class citizens” in American and, “It will not be allowed to happen again.”

Giangrande said the historical legacy of Columbus and “any other individual should be subject to debate.” But that debate “should not give license to remove a symbol that was a beacon of hope for millions of Italian Americans who helped create the beauty of this country.”

“Italians were once second-class citizens. And it will not be allowed to happen again,” Giangrande said.

Lightfoot has said she has no plans to eliminate the city holiday of Columbus Day, but on Wednesday would not say if she would ask the board to reverse the decision.

Instead, she said she’s “not gonna get involved in any potential legal action that might be brought” because she is “responsible for CPS.” But she argued there’s a way to “uplift and celebrate the history of indigenous people” without making Italian Americans “feel like their history has been erased.”

“This has got to be about addition — not subtraction,” Lightfoot said.

Backers of the change have said it was important to acknowledge the effect Columbus’ arrival had on those already living in North America.

“We don’t want to celebrate someone who represents this idea of colonization and genocide,” Heather Miller, executive director of the American Indian Center of Chicago, said at the time.

“It would be amazing if instead of celebrating someone that represents death, destruction, genocide and violence, perhaps we pick an Italian American figure that truly expresses things that make our communities great and express what it truly means to be American.”

Also at Wednesday’s City Hall news conference were the City Council’s two Italian American aldermen, their black and Hispanic colleagues and counterparts from Berwyn and representatives of Polish and Jewish civic groups.

“To know where you’re going, you have to know where you have come from. We are dismayed to imagine that our historic figures or celebrations could be abolished,” said Ella Sawczuk of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America.

“Just this week, Poles acknowledged the contributions of General Casimir Pulaski, a Polish hero who fought and died for the freedom of America. The thought that the day we celebrate could be erased makes it necessary for us to raise our voices in solidarity to decry the actions of CPS.”

Alison Pierce Logan, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, argued that Columbus “represents the best and most prominent of Italian values of discovery, risk and exploration, which sits at the heart of the American dream.”

“As a result of his discovery, the world began to experience worldwide immigration to America by oppressed peoples seeking a better life for their families,” Logan said.

“After millennial persecution, most would argue that the United States of America has been unprecedentedly protective, supportive and kind to the Jewish people — a moral position that cannot be highlighted without acknowledging Christopher Columbus.”

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), who is African-American, said he feels a kinship with Italian Americans.

“When they came to this country, they were discriminated against. Back then, they were the black people in this nation and were treated bad. They struggled,” Burnett said.

“It’s a bad idea to take something away from someone and give something to someone else. … We should not take anything away from them. They have contributed to our society in a lot of great ways. … They deserve to keep this holiday. The young people in our public schools deserve to honor it.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critic, demanded that School Board President Miguel del Valle be held accountable for freelancing.

Lightfoot “should make Miguel make this right. Reverse course,” Lopez said.

“If he’s unwilling to do so and unwilling to acknowledge that he broke the law and violated the Open Meetings Act in order to push this through, then maybe he should be removed from his position.”

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