Monday, January 17, 2011

What’s a Holiday to Education?


Buffalo, Montana School
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
Here in the Equality State (Wyoming), you’d think we’ve got the MLK holiday all figured out when it comes to celebrating the birthday of the highly esteemed civil rights leader. I’m talking about the same state where women were the first in the nation to vote, serve on juries and hold public office—all which arguably paved the way for statehood way back in 1890.

Nevertheless, Wyoming is not as united as one would think when it comes to recognizing this federal holiday. Oh sure, you won’t find a Wyoming bank or post office open anywhere on MLK day, but when it comes to education, it’s a mixed bag.

As an employee of Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, our doors will be locked up tight on MLK day. The first day of the new semester begins the following day. Even in past years, when the first day of the semester came before King’s holiday, the college still observed MLK day by closing the campus on that Monday.

Yet, in the same town, the local public schools have and will continue to conduct classes like any other day.

Since I’m not a public holiday expert and wondering if MLK Day was some kind of “minor” holiday, I looked up all of the official Federal holidays and discovered that MLK Day is right up there with all the other holidays that result in the closure of our banks, post offices and schools.

Here are the country’s official Federal holidays in chronological order: New Year’s Day, MLK Day, Inauguration Day (every four years), Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

I called someone tonight who works for the schools to see if they could explain to me this obvious oversight on my part. Sadly, they couldn’t explain it or understand it themselves, going as far as saying they found it to be disrespectful of King’s memory.

At first I thought it might be some kind of mandate from the Wyoming Board of Education, but I see several other public schools (i.e., Laramie County and Natrona County Schools) around the “Equality State” will be closed in observance of MLK day including the schools in Cody which are in the same county as Powell.

Ironically, there were no classes last Monday for the Powell Schools although teachers were present for an in-service meeting.

And Martin Luther King, Jr Day is not alone. It appears that Veterans Day and Columbus Day have fallen into this same “second-class” holiday status with our nation’s schools as well.

So, what shall we make of the Park County School District in northwestern Wyoming and other school districts around the country that remain open on MLK day or other Federal holidays such as Veterans Day and Columbus Day? Why are these holidays marginalized? Might there come a day when all Federal holidays will be considered a potential school day? How would the public respond if classes were planned and held on Labor Day or Memorial Day?

I would propose that if Federal Holidays like MLK, Veterans and Columbus Day are potential school days, then all Federal holidays should be held to the same rationale. Perhaps rotating them each year if necessary where schools are open on Labor Day, but not Veterans Day. Better yet, simply expand the calendar a bit more and close the schools for all of the Federal holidays—like the banks and post offices.

Coincidentally next month, the country will observe Washington’s Birthday which will find things turned around here in Powell—the college will still hold classes, but the public schools will be off for the day.


The Powell Tribune ran a small story last year on this same topic. Here is the full story as it appeared.

King’s contributions recognized in classrooms
On Monday, local banks, the post office and Northwest College were closed in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day/Wyoming Equality Day — yet in Park County School District No. 1, school was in session.

The Powell school district isn’t alone — for many school districts across Wyoming, it was business as usual.

The federal holiday was first observed in 1986, though it wasn’t until 2000 that all 50 states of the union recognized the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Our state was one of the last. Even now, Wyoming law leaves it up to individual school district boards of trustees to decide whether the holiday will be observed.

As superintendent Kevin Mitchell said via e-mail, “Some school districts do. Some don’t.”

Mitchell went on to say that, in a conversation Monday with five other Wyoming school superintendents, he learned that none of their districts were closed for the holiday.

“In fact,” he said, “they believe the day can be better observed if students are in school rather than going skiing or to the mall...”

It’s a point well taken. While it may appear at first blush that some Wyoming school districts — including ours — have chosen to not recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it may instead be the perfect opportunity for educators to make their students aware of Dr. King’s contributions. His belief in non-violent and service-oriented approaches to overcoming problems, such as homelessness, hunger, prejudice and discrimination, is a belief from which we still reap benefits. Mitchell added that, while there were no activities planned on a district-wide level, the significance of the day was not forgotten by local teachers, who did indeed take time to recognize King and the ideals he stood for.

Some have said that Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be “a day on, not a day off.” We hope our schools utilized the “day on” to its fullest advantage.

1 comment:

Dave said...

"Picture if you will, a small corn-fed, beet-sweetened community challenged by an ever changing calendar of non-events in: The Powell Zone."