Des Plaines District 62 board member says schools shouldn't celebrate Columbus Day

A Des Plaines Elementary School District 62 board member who's seeking reelection said educators need to "fix our history books" and stop honoring Christopher Columbus' expeditions to the Americas.

"In our district, no way in hell is it going to be called Columbus Day again," Tina Garrett said during a joint video interview with other candidates and the Daily Herald. "Not happening."

Garrett wasn't the only candidate who stressed the need to teach history accurately.

"I fully support teaching students the historical facts as we know them today," incumbent Beth Morley said in an email Wednesday. "(We should) refrain from teaching debunked myths."

Garrett and Morley are among five candidates competing for three board seats in the April 4 election. The others are incumbent Elizabeth Massa and challengers Gene Haring and Patrick Maag.

All but Maag participated in the joint interview. Maag answered questions via email.

Garrett, a board member since 2017, talked about Columbus while fielding a question posed to the group about politics and perceived political indoctrination in the classroom.

Long celebrated in the U.S. - especially by Italian Americans - for discovering the Americas, Genoa-born Columbus has faced growing criticism in recent years from those who say his voyages led to the exploitation and genocide of the continents' Indigenous people. Additionally, the Norse people now are believed to have reached the North American mainland centuries before Columbus sailed into the Caribbean.

Although Columbus Day is celebrated as a federal holiday - and as a state holiday in Illinois - on the second Monday of October, some cities and states instead honor Indigenous Peoples Day on that day.

This year's District 62 calendar identifies the second Monday of October simply as a "state holiday," as did the calendar for the 2021-22 term. That was a deliberate change from past calendars that identified Columbus Day, Garrett said.

"In District 62, we're very mindfully teaching true history," Garrett said in a phone interview Wednesday.

While identifying herself as a first-generation Italian American, Garrett blasted the traditional American view of Columbus as a great man worthy of celebration.

"We don't need false prophets," Garrett said. "We don't need the false stories to lift up a culture of people."

Morley said students should learn where mistakes have been made in history.

"If we as a country learn from our mistakes, if we as a community learn from our mistakes, then I think we're all moving in the right direction," said Morley, a board member since 2015.

Massa said kids can handle "the tough stuff" in our history.

"I don't think they should get only half a story," said Massa, a former high school history teacher who was appointed to the board in 2021.

Glamorizing any part of history "means picking and choosing information (and) perpetuating a false narrative of our collective past," Massa said in an email Wednesday.

"Our students deserve to learn complete history, especially the parts that are uncomfortable," she added.

Haring noted that the rest of the world knows the United States' history, including what Columbus did and that the Pilgrims and the Europeans who followed them "brought disease and ... wiped out an entire culture of people."

"We need to teach that and not be afraid of it," Haring said. "It is what happened."

Maag also said Columbus Day shouldn't be celebrated in District 62 schools.

"I think the day should be changed to Indigenous People Day to honor the history of the native people," he said.

Students should learn about Columbus, Maag added, but with "all the bad that comes along with learning about exploration and colonialism."

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