Southern School Districts Using MLK Day as Make-Up Snow Day Doesn't Sit Well With Civil Rights Groups

School districts in a handful of Southern states have stirred up controversy for their decision to open schools today, on the MLK holiday, to make up for inclement weather days earlier this winter.

As the New York Times notes, superintendents are in a tricky position, needing to provide a set number of school days by a certain date, in a school year that has seen a greater than average number of snow and ice days. To make up for those bad-weather days, some districts in Georgia and the Carolinas are making kids attend school on a some Saturdays and holidays, including President's Day, Memorial Day and MLK Day. Given the tense racial history in these states, the latter has angered many civil rights activists. “It always seems like Martin Luther King Day is the first one they are willing to give up,” said Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP. Rev. Al Sharpton agreed: “We’re urging people to keep their kids home. It’s un-American not to observe the holiday.”

One could argue that not observing President's Day and Memorial Day is equally un-American, but there's context for MLK Day in particular being a touchy subject in these states. The Times:

In North Carolina and South Carolina in particular, the holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has long been a sensitive topic. Senators John P. East and Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republicans, provided stiff opposition in a battle to have the day declared a national holiday, which Congress did through legislation that President Ronald Reagan signed in 1983. At the time, only 27 states and Washington observed it as a holiday. South Carolina became the last state to do so, in 2000, the same year the Legislature voted to remove the familiar Confederate battle flag that flew atop the Statehouse.

And then there's Georgia, which, as Dr. King's birthplace, seems to have a particular responsibility to honor the late Reverend. "Am I surprised? Probably not. But I'm disappointed," state Sen. Vincent Fort, leader of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "It's supposed to be a day of service, a day of reflection. And this sends a message that the home state of Dr. King may not fully value him."

It's easy to see where the superintendents are coming from, and I have sympathy for the situation they're in (as a native Texan, I understand how Southern cities completely shut down when there's winter weather). But seeing as how the vast majority of the counties in these states -- and the rest of the country, for that matter -- have been able to deal with school closings without ignoring a major civil rights holiday, it does seem at the very leastto bea pretty boneheaded thing to do.

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at January 17, 2011, 5:35am

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