Dear Lancaster Parents, Family, and Friends...
We're all familiar with the hype that begins around the time our children go back to school. After the 'back to school' sales are over, we take a giant leap forward to Halloween, soon followed by 'Black Friday' events, while Christmas decorations and music foreshadow a whirlwind period that, for many, has made time travel seem possible.
Today I'd like us to hit the 'Pause' button for a moment to reflect on our recent past, while spending a moment or two to savor the meaning of the holiday that is right in our midst. Before television commercials tell us we need to abandon the dessert table and go on a shopping frenzy that starts earlier every year - Black Friday beginning shortly after the dinner feast is cleared - let's take some time to pay homage to the traditional November holidays known as Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.
Earlier this month like the rest of the country, Lancaster schools observed a federal holiday set aside to thank a small but invaluable segment of our population. Conceived on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, ‘Armistice Day’ was intended to reflect upon a temporary cessation of hostilities during World War I. In 1938, Armistice Day became a federal holiday, and in the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War became known as Veterans Day to recognize the contributions of all who have served to protect our freedoms, both domestically and abroad.
In the immortal words of our late president, John F. Kennedy, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
In Lancaster schools, we have a long tradition of observing patriotic holidays, with Veterans Day being no exception. Throughout the years, students have written special notes of thanks, not only to veterans, but to those who are actively deployed. Older children write essays about family members who have served. Student groups gather items to donate to homeless veterans and deployed service men and women, including candy, toiletries, and hand-drawn placemats to be served with meals at local VFW posts. Students in Advanced Placement classes are visited by veterans who recount what it is like to serve in today’s armed forces, the special challenges and sacrifices that are met and made by those who serve, and their families. From school to school, commemorations of veterans and active military abound.
One way in which the Lancaster Central School District has shown its gratitude toward veterans is by being the first school district in Western New York to grant the Veterans Tax Exemption that was signed into state law in 2013. Originally offered by townships to veterans who served in wars and conflicts excluding the Cold War, school districts also began to adopt the exemption, which was approved by our board of education in 2014. Just as Armistice Day began as an observance in World War I, then evolved into Veterans Day to include all those who have served in our armed forces, so too has the veterans tax exemption law evolved.
Enabled by an amendment to the state’s real property tax law, I am proud to say that beginning with the 2018-19 school year, our board of education has approved the exemption for Cold War veterans, defined as “all U.S. Armed Forces personnel who faithfully and honorably served the United States anytime during the Cold War era, which is defined as September 2, 1945 to December 26, 1991." The 210 Cold War veterans living in our district would be eligible for up to $12,000 in school tax exemption, with up to $40,000 exemption for disabled Cold War veterans.
I remember very well when Lancaster was the leader in the area passing the veterans tax exemption, said Board of Education President, Patrick Uhteg. I think it speaks a lot to our thankfulness and our gratitude to those who serve our country that we offer this exemption, too.
Speaking of gratitude, that brings us back to the holiday we celebrate this week. Thanksgiving is also a holiday marked by observances within schools and classrooms, many of which are designed to encourage children to show outward expressions of appreciation toward family, community, and the less fortunate.
On behalf of Lancaster Schools and from my family to yours, I hope this holiday ushers in a time of gratitude and reflection, and that your entire holiday season is filled with the love of family and friends.
Michael J. Vallely, Ph.D.
Photo: Joy and Kenneth Blair, parents of David Blair from Mrs. Miranda Braunscheidel’s kindergarten class at John A. Sciole Elementary, share their experiences as active and retired members of the US Coast Guard, with the class.