Many students in Iowa schools have today off in honor of Martin Luther King Junior Day, but the Iowa City district decided to hold classes this year — and that decision became controversial. The schedule was set last year after a request from staff members after many years where classes were not held on Martin Luther King Junior Day.
Alecia Brooks, a member of the Coalition for Racial Justice, spoke at a school board meeting in December and said it forced families to choose between sending their children to school and attending the events planned for the holiday. “We just didn’t feel like families should have to make this decision,” Brooks said.
Brooks says the decision on how to handle the day should have been left up to parents. “This is not only a national federal holiday, but it is a day meant to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Junior as well as others who participated in the Civil Rights movement — so other activists,” Brooks said. “I think the proper way to honor it is to allow families to decide how they want to spend that day. I don’t think the school board should have structured that.”
Iowa City superintendent, Stephen Murley, says the district couldn’t do anything for this year as the Iowa Department of Education rules do not allow schedules to be changed in the middle of the year. Murley says many students in the district will spend the day working on service learning projects. “The intent is for students to learn more about Martin Luther King Junior, to deepen their understanding of his work, his life,” Murley says.
The school board decided that future schedules will keep MLK Day as a school holiday, and students will receive excused absences if they stay home to celebrate. Another large district, Sioux City Community Schools, is holding classes today marking the holiday with school assemblies and volunteer projects. The city council in Sioux City drew some attention when members voted not to add MLK day as a city holiday. City officials cited cost issues with adding another paid holiday for employees.