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Pittsfield Schools Considers Using Indigenous People Day, Not Columbus

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Department may join the growing movement behind switching out Columbus Day with Indigenous People Day.
 
School Committee member Cynthia Taylor suggested the school change the name when written on the school calendar. The change may be small but the gesture is part of a growing movement to use the weekend to celebrate the original natives of the Americas instead of the person whose "discovery" lead to an invasion of their land.
 
"I've come to realize really, there is nothing to honor about this man. The only thing I can come up with as a positive is I get a day off from the bank," said School Committee Daniel Elias.
 
Taylor said the change of the holiday would line up more with the social studies curriculum and that numerous towns, colleges, and universities throughout the country have been making the change.
 
"Williams College has already done this. A lot of colleges and public schools have already goes this way," she said.
 
The second Monday in October has been recognized as a federal holiday since 1937. It was created to honor Christopher Columbus for discovering the New World — then populated by anywhere from 10 million to 50 million people. But, historical research shows that he wasn't the first European to step foot in the Americas. But when he did get to America, he was atrocious toward Native Americans.
 
In 1992, Berkeley, Calif., first changed Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day. But it has only been in the last three or four years when the trend caught on. In 2016, the Massachusetts towns of Cambridge, Amherst, and Northampton all made the switch. As did the entire state of Vermont (which had never observed Columbus Day as a state holiday).
 
Superintendent Jason McCandless said many states don't celebrate Columbus Day. He hadn't 
 
"We are here now and we know what we know from history, it seems very appropriate," McCandless said of the change.
 
The move won't change the calendar. The schools will still be closed — and the holiday is written into the school's collective bargaining contracts — but the wording will change. So while the day to day impacts are non-existent, it is a symbolic gesture of the school district to honor the indigenous tribes that were here well before Columbus.
 
Along the same lines, the School Department has considered changing the name of the Taconic Braves and the mascot depicting an American Indian. There has been a growing movement among schools and sports teams to rid them of derogatory Native American terms and logos. 

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Pittsfield Superintendant Warns of Prohibited Toy Guns

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The district has been alerted of a concerning trend that is prohibited on school grounds: Orby or Orbeez gel guns.

The toy guns shoot gel or water beads and are said to pose a risk of physical harm and being mistaken for a real firearm. They are a violation of the Pittsfield Public School's code of conduct and could result in a suspension of 11 days or more.

"Though these may appear as simple toys, it's crucial to recognize the potential risks tied to their usage. By raising awareness, we aim to educate our community about the possible hazards associated with these items, emphasizing the importance of informed decision-making and responsible behavior," said Superintendent Joseph Curtis in a memo to the Pittsfield Public School community on Friday.

Last fall, someone used a similar gun to target cross-country students and a coach from Lee High. No one was injured in the incident. 

Given the frequency of school shootings nationwide, Curtis said schools cannot afford to accommodate anything that even remotely that resembles a firearm. The toy guns and gel beads are secured behind a locked case in Walmart on Hubbard Avenue, many indicating that they are for ages 14 and older.

"The Pittsfield Public Schools firmly maintains that Orby toy guns and any associated pellets should not be brought onto school premises, including both indoor and outdoor areas. This directive is in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, staff, and visitors within our educational environment," he wrote.

"We stress the significance of following this directive to prevent any potential hazards or disruptions that may arise from the presence of these items on school grounds. By upholding this standard, we aim to cultivate a secure and conducive learning environment for everyone within the Pittsfield community."

The superintendent listed three potential hazards of the water-bead guns in the schools:

  • Physical Injuries: The guns have the capacity to propel projectiles at considerable speeds, posing a risk of injury to the eyes, skin, and even teeth, particularly when fired in close proximity.
     
  • Misidentification Risks: Due to their realistic appearance, some Orby guns may be mistaken for genuine firearms. Such misidentification could result in confusion and potentially perilous encounters, especially if law enforcement or bystanders perceive them as real weapons.
     
  • Public Disruption: The act of firing Orby guns in public settings can be highly disruptive and alarming to others. Such behavior may instill fear and panic among individuals nearby, potentially leading to charges of disorderly conduct or harassment.
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