UPDATE: Cedar Rapids Community School District students will not have to attend classes on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Superintendent Dave Benson is planning to announce a reversal of his move to schedule the makeup, initially planned for Monday, Jan. 21, at tonight’s Cedar Rapids school board meeting. Administrators from school districts across the state, including Cedar Rapids, canceled classes on Dec. 20 in response to a blizzard that resulted in high winds and hazardous road conditions.
“I rethought that and it’s my decision to rescind the earlier decision and have that not be a student attendance day,” Benson said this morning.
The superintendent attributed his change of thought to the controversy in the Des Moines Public Schools, where a local NAACP youth group led an outcry in response to district administrators’ decision to schedule a student attendance makeup day on the holiday, which commemorates the slain civil rights leader’s birthday.
Benson initially selected the Dr. King holiday, originally planned as a day off for students, as a makeup because it was the first available option in the calendar. Feb. 18, is the second.
According to Community Relations Supervisor Marcia Hughes, the district plans to contact parents later this afternoon or evening about the calendar change by phone, email and text via the district’s School Messenger Notification System.
While approval of the district calendar is a board responsibility, management of the calendar “is an administrative function,” Benson said. He met with his cabinet this morning and said all members supported the schedule change, which will move the makeup day to Monday, Feb. 18. Discussion of moving the makeup day was added to the board meeting agenda on Friday afternoon, “to accommodate the board of education should they wish to give any further direction or discuss the issue any further.”
“I’m not looking or seeking direction from the board at this time,” he said.
Board President Mary Meisterling, who is not on the district’s calendar committee, attributed the decision to schedule the makeup day on the Dr. King holiday as an issue of oversight.
“No one likes snow makeup days,” she said. “It’s hard for us to find days that most people will find acceptable.”
Meisterling contacted Board Secretary Laurel Day on Jan. 11 about adding the calendar item to the agenda following an inquiry from Dedric Doolin, president of the Cedar Rapids NAACP branch, who was also spurred on by the events in Des Moines.
“To have school that day seemed to negate the relevance of the holiday,” he said. “We want people to celebrate that day, to celebrate the accomplishments of Dr. King and see how they can take part in making that dream a reality in Cedar Rapids and beyond.”
Doolin encouraged students to observe the holiday by attending local gatherings, such as the United Way of East Central Iowa’s 27th annual Remembering Martin Luncheon, now that school is canceled.
“I completely agree and understand the sensitivity of observing the Martin Luther King holiday,” Meisterling said, noting that she does not expect robust discussion from board members on the issue at Monday’s meeting. “I don’t think that will show up as a snow makeup day on our calendars to come.”
The Cedar Rapids district’s new makeup day falls on another holiday commemorating a national historical figure’s birth: Washington’s Birthday, commonly known as Presidents Day.
While Doolin said he is “not against Presidents’ Day,” the public regards it differently than the Dr. King holiday.
” I don’t know very many people who go to programs on that day. It’s a holiday and there’s sales but what celebrations traditionally happen? I don’t know of any,” he said. “To be very honest, it’s kind of like some other holidays that become materialistic and for businesses to make money instead of recognition of [the president's] accomplishments.”