Iowa City schools see lower attendance following Martin Luther King Jr. Day controversy

About 85 percent of district’s nearly 12,900 students in school Monday, official says

Gregg Hennigan
Published: January 20 2014 | 4:22 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:25 am in

IOWA CITY – Following the controversial decision to have school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, attendance in the Iowa City Community School District was lower than normal Monday.

About 85 percent of the district’s nearly 12,900 students were in school Monday, said Chace Ramey, the district’s chief human resources officer, who also handles media relations.

The average daily attendance rate last year was 95.7 percent for kindergarten through eighth-grade and 89.5 percent in the high schools, he said. The combined districtwide average was not available for comparison.

The district’s decision to change past practice and hold school on the federal holiday honoring the civil rights icon upset some parents and community members. They called on the school board to cancel classes, but last month district officials said they did not have the authority under state law to do that once the calendar had been set.

Schools had special lessons Monday focused on learning more about King, diversity and service to others -- a plan that was in place before the controversy erupted.

The day “went very well,” Ramey said. “Students were engaged. Staff were engaged. I heard that from a number of buildings: The day wasn’t just great for our students. It was great for our staff.”

The district excused students whose parents or caregivers called them in absent Monday so people who wanted to attend community events honoring King could. Some people vowed not to call schools, but Ramey said he did not know how many students missed school Monday without giving notice.

Ramey also was not sure how many of the 15 percent of students who were not in school were sick.

The school board has said it does not want school to be held on future Martin Luther King Jr. Days.

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