Although they promised not to enter an ethnic duel, the Prince Geroge's County delegatin here succumbed to the "my holiday is better than yours" debate to the ultimate dismay of county school officials.
It started with Christopher Columbus discovery day. Marin Luter King, Jr.'s birthday and Yom Kippur were immediately brougth into the discussion and within minutes two new holidays were added to the county school calendar.
"I'm not going to talk about Columbus versus Martin Luther King, Jr. versus Yom Kippur," said Del. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's)."But a lot of schools didn't have special programs on King's birthday and they let children out on Columbus Day and Yom Kippur."
Injured pride led to an ammendment and final approval of a county bill - with an almost sure chance for full House and Senate approval - to make Columbus Day and King's Birthday mandated school holidays.
"Yom Kippur I could understand. That is a religious holiday," said Del. Frank B. Pesci, an ardent Italian American. "But why Columbus Day? It's not even a holy day of obligation."
Pesci argued, against the wishes of his Italian-American colleagues, the Sons of Italy and the Knights of Columbus, that the best way to spawn pride for the hero was through education, not a day off for "drinking beer in a shopping center."
On the losing side of this debate was the county school board that now must find its 180 school days somewhere between Labor Day and first summer heat while observing two new holidays and the dictates of the weather.
Last year Pesci convinced his sensitive colleagues that his was the best approach. A law was passed ordering the county school system to hold special programs honoring Dr. King and Christopher Columbus on their appointed holidays.
"If you want kids to appreciate the goals of Dr. King of ethnics then tell them about it in class," said Pesci. "There is nothing academic about giving the kids day off."
The county school board, which has been lobbied successfully by the Sons of Italy, was emphatically opposed to mansted holidays.
"There are a tremendous number of working parents who won't have either day off and won't know what to do with their children," said Maureen R. Steinecke, board member and linison to Annapolis.
She also agreed with Pesci on th dubious merits of honoring a revered man by sending children out of classes. Yet she said she was surprised and alarmed by Exum's assertion that King's birthday wasn't celebrated in school anyway.
"I asked him (Exum) for a list of schools that didn't have King program and he promised to give it to me," said Steinecke. "I promised to talk to (school Supt.) Dr. Feeney as soon as I could"
Although there was laughter during the debate and suggestions that ethnic jokes wouldn't fare well in Montgomery County, there was little dissengion when the votes were called.Italian-American Delegates Franceis J. Santangdo Sr. and Joseph F. Vallario Jr. voted with the Columbus holiday. Black-American Delegates Exum and Decatur Wayne Trotter were in favor of King's mandated holiday.
Pesci was alone but it didn't bother him.
"I feel sensitive about this and so do they. I'm just coming from somewhere else. I want all the children to know why they honor Columbus and King."