Parents ask Rockbridge County School Board for MLK Day holiday

By: 
Lisa Perry

Two Rockbridge County mothers told the Rockbridge County School Board Tuesday, Jan. 9 that they want Martin Luther King Jr. Day to be observed by closing schools in a day of honor and remembrance.

 

Currently, Rockbridge County is open on MLK Day, a federal holiday. Lexington is closed. Buena Vista schools save that Monday for teacher work.

 

Christian Worth, of Lexington, parent of a RCHS freshman and a senior, asked the School Board to reconsider its November approval of the 2018-2019 school calendar that listed MLK Day as a full attendance day.

 

“Thank you for your consideration of these comments - and the voices and presence of the other community members who are before you this evening,” Worth began, “to request that strong consideration be given to allow for county schools to close to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not only for 2018-2019, but going forward.”

 

Worth’s sentiments were seconded by Tammi Helwig, who also has two children at the high school.

 

“I am here today to ask the board to consider an amendment to the calendar for the 2018-2019 academic year to recognize the national and state Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday,” Helwig said. “By not recognizing MLK day, I fear we are sending an unintentional message. Not only would recognizing the MLK holiday send an important signal to our children, there are a number of educational activities in our community families and children would be able to fully participate in.”

 

Rockbridge County agreed to excuse student absence for any who participated in Monday’s MLK parade, sponsored by Community Anti-Racism Effort (CARE).

Rockbridge County School Superintendent Phillip Thompson told The News-Gazette Friday that two or three years ago, the calendar, which had previously allowed students the day off, changed when the end of the semester no longer coincided with MLK day.

“It used to be a teacher work day, but it’s now full attendance,” he said. Continuing to allow students to stay home on that day then became more of a factor in the school’s 180-day attendance requirement, among other considerations. 

School calendars are the purvey of the school board, Thompson said. Dave McDaniel, Laurie Strong, Kevin Brooks, and Wendy Lovell approved the 2018-2019 calendar at the Nov. 7 school board meeting. Board member Jay Lewis did not attend that meeting.

Thompson said that prior to the board’s November vote approving the calendar, a survey regarding the calendar was circulated asking for public input and posted on social media. Though a number of constituents responded, Thompson said there was only one comment referencing the proposal to eliminate MLK Day as a student holiday.

Virginia Department of Education Director of Communications Director Charles B. Pyle confirmed that school boards alone are responsible for setting school calendars. He said that he is not aware of any tracking the number of schools in Virginia that allow for a MLK Day holiday.

Virginia School Boards Association Director of Legal and Policy Services Elizabeth Ewing said she knew of no state law that governed the addition or elimination of holidays on a school calendar.

It isn’t the first time the question of an MLK Day-related closure has been broached in a Lexington School. In 2012, Washington and Lee law school student David Knoespel unsuccessfully petitioned that college to close on MLK Day.

CARE spokesman Rev. Reginald A. Early, who attended the Jan. 9 Rockbridge School Board meeting but did not speak, said that his organization has made it a priority to ensure that local schools, including Washington and Lee, VMI, and Dabney S. Lancaster Community College recognize the federal holiday. He said the timing of the school board comments was not related to the MLK holiday weekend or locally-scheduled parade events.

Worth, herself a member of CARE, spoke only as a parent, she said, and her comments should not be construed as an official CARE statement.

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