Wilmette Public Schools eyes making Juneteenth a district holiday
A summertime alteration to District 39’s operational calendar may be coming to fruition after several discussions.
Conversations resurfaced Monday, Feb. 8, about Wilmette Public Schools’ designation of Juneteenth as a districtwide holiday.
Juneteenth, also called Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It is celebrated on June 19, when in 1865 African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were informed that the Confederacy had surrendered, ending the Civil War.
D39 administrators proposed two options for recognizing the holiday: a day of professional development for staff members, or a day off where employees and potential students would not report to school.
Board members and administrators signaled their support for making Juneteenth a holiday, but the specifics of doing so were debated, and ultimately moved to a closed-session discussion at the meeting.
Board member Mark Steen stated his desire to celebrate the day, despite its history being omitted during his school years.
“To me, this is a day that I wish I had known about a lot earlier and it’s disappointing to me that my education didn’t teach me about it,” Steen said. “This is a day … of reflection, celebration and hope.”
A disagreement among board members came when discussing whether to add the day on as an additional holiday or to swap it out for one of the existing holidays. The district currently has between 12-13 holidays per year, officials said.
Superintendent Dr. Kari Cremascoli said that if the district were to swap it out with another holiday it would require discussion between labor groups representing 12-month employees.
“Currently, holidays are named in collective bargaining agreements so we would need to work through that consideration if it becomes a trade-off with a different holiday or simply an additional holiday that would be afforded, remembering that on this day, typically only 12-month employees are working,” she said.
School, including summer learning opportunities, is typically not in session on June 19 but 12-month employees do still report to work over the summer.
Board member Amy Poehling, who stated support for adding on the day as an additional holiday, said she would “have to learn more about the message it sends” if officials opted to swap out another holiday.
Poehling said she deemed adding Juneteenth as “worthy, feasible and reasonable.”
Board President Lisa Schneider-Fabes agreed, adding that the district should take it one step further and include a “community marker” that is an explanation of the holiday, why the district believes it’s important, and “ties it back into the statement of equity and inclusion.”
Steen also added that recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday and holding a day of professional development are not mutually exclusive, and the district could opt for moving forward with both.
The board of education would be required to vote — or acknowledge its decision publicly during a meeting — on the matter if it causes revisions to the collective bargaining agreements. Those revisions would occur if there was a holiday swap.
Before conversations related to a potential swap-out of recognized holidays made substantial progress, the board opted to move to closed session.
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.