With Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays just around the corner, schools in New Jersey could be commemorating those events for the last time, at least officially.
If Gov. Jon Corzine signs Assembly Bill 17, which passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously last month, schools throughout the state no longer will be required to hold exercises or conduct instruction commemorating occasions such as Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day, in addition to Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, which are celebrated together as Presidents’ Day.
They will also be exempt from commemorating Arbor Day and Commodore Barry Day, which honors Revolutionary War hero John Barry, who fought in the battles of Trenton and Princeton.
The measure is part of a larger bill intended to curb wasteful and inefficient spending by schools. Districts and schools would be free to celebrate the days as they saw fit, or not at all.
That laissez-faire approach has veterans’ groups seeing red.
“The worst-case scenario is that when they make it optional, no one is going to do it … and the meaning of those holidays will be diminished,” said Raymond L. Zawacki, the department adjutant of the American Legion Department of New Jersey.
His organization, along with other veterans’ organizations, has written the governor asking him not to sign the legislation. The governor’s office was still reviewing the bill last week.
Schools regularly turn to the American Legion to arrange speaking engagements or other activities with veterans to celebrate such holidays, said Mr. Zawacki, a Navy veteran.
The brouhaha over the bill seems to be having an effect.
Assemblywoman Linda R. Greenstein, a Democrat and one of its 10 sponsors, sent a letter to the governor this month, asking him for a conditional veto, which would clear the way for amendments to the law, and for new language requiring schools to commemorate at least some of the days.
“It is imperative that future generations be made aware of [veterans’] contributions,” she wrote in the Jan. 12 letter.
But, she acknowledged, many schools were celebrating the days already and are likely to keep doing so. And the days all remain official state holidays—it’s up to each school system to decide whether schools have the day off.
A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2007 edition of Education Week