As we, here in the North celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with a day off school, we might want to think of several school districts in the South who are taking major heat for requiring students to attend school today. Why would they do that? Blame it on the weather.
Many school districts in the South have missed several days of school by now, especially after this week’s snow and ice storms. Their concern, which is understandable, is that it is only January 16th, some districts there have already lost as many as eight days, and historically, they have a lot of snow in February and March as well. Some districts have also wiped out Presidents’ Day in February, and many are talking about reducing or doing away with spring break altogether. What would cause such drastic measures? You guessed it…state achievement tests!
The decision to make up one snow day on Martin Luther King Jr. Day has created quite an outcry in the South even though administrators have tried to explain their dilemma. As Michael Schlabra, director of administrative services for Gilmer County Schools explained, “With high-stakes testing that occurs in late April, we’re trying to maximize instructional days before these high-stakes test as much as we can.” They argue that to tack these days on to the end of the school year, which has been traditionally done in the past, does nothing to help them to prepare students for state tests which will be done by then.
The issue is especially touchy in Georgia, King’s home state. Edward DuBose, the president of Georgia State Conference NAACP stated, “Those excuses are unacceptable. To substitute the legacy of what Dr. King stood for, to reduce it to an inclement weather day, is unacceptable. … (It) reflects the ultimate disrespect of an entire people.”
In North Carolina, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools had designated Martin Luther King Jr. day as a weather make-up day two years ago. In a statement on their website it said: “Teachers and principals are encouraged to discuss Dr. King and his legacy as part of their lessons on January 17 to help students understand and observe the holiday.” Peter Gorman, the superintendent of the school system said that they are stuck due to state law that mandates 180 days of instruction and that their school year should begin and end on certain dates.
But the Charlotte NAACP doesn’t see it that way, and made this statement on their website: “The NAACP on behalf of the African-American and minority community is appalled and thoroughly incensed at Peter Gorman’s decision to use the MLK holiday as a snow make-up day. Once again Dr. Gorman has shown total disdain and disrespect for a very significant part of this community.”
I can see all sides of this sensitive issue. For many it probably does feel like a lack of respect for the man whose life we should honor on that day. For parents, it is unfair if plans have already been made for this day, President’s Day, or spring break, especially if the cancelling of those plans is going to be at a cost to them. And for those who fought to see Martin Luther King Jr. Day observed as a national holiday, I certainly understand their disappointment and righteous anger.
But here is the straight and honest truth from an educator’s point of view. Before the administering of state tests, we did make up snow days at the end of the year or sometimes over spring break, because instruction was instruction and could be done anytime. But sadly, times have changed and the reality is we are forced to teach to these tests, like it or not, and losing valuable test-prep days makes it more of a challenge than it already is to get students to pass these tests with flying colors. I’m sure the teachers in these districts who are forced to give up their day off are just as unhappy as the students, their parents, and community leaders are. But this is the reality we live in; it is the reality our government supports. So complain to them, if they’ll listen. These school systems are only trying to do the job they are mandated to do, and sometimes it hurts.
Two last thoughts on this topic…First, where is it more likely that students will hear about Martin Luther King Jr. today, at home or at school? Second, I can’t help but feel that if King was alive today and was asked what he thought was most important; having a day off to honor his memory or attending school in order to catch up days lost due to weather to ensure better preparedness for state tests, I think his choice would be obvious. Don’t you?