Schools draw fire for classes on King holiday

Schools draw fire for classes on King holiday

January 15th, 2011 by Ben Benton and Andy Johns in News

MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY EVENTS

The Unity Group's 41st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Week Celebration includes the following events:

• 4 p.m. Sunday: Dr. King's birthday party at New Zion Baptist Church, 809 M.L. King Blvd. Ronald Harris, of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, will be the speaker.

• 4:30 p.m. Monday: Memorial march to Tivoli Theatre. Line up at Olivet Baptist Church, 740 M.L. King Blvd.

• 5 p.m. Monday: Main MLK Day program at the Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St. Larry Earvin, president of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, is the speaker.

Gilmer and Fannin County Schools in North Georgia will use Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a make-up day for snow, but that decision has drawn heat from NAACP leaders.

School officials say they need every day they can get to make up for snow days.

Gilmer County Superintendent Bryan Dorsey said he "certainly understands the criticism" but added that officials are "running out of choices."

"It's tough when people don't realize that since Dec. 2 we've only had kids in school two whole days and two half days," Dorsey said. "Since Dec. 10 we've almost had a small summer break already."

Both systems have missed nine days so far -- four before Christmas and all this week. Fannin County made up one day on Jan. 4.

Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia State NAACP Chapter, said he is shocked that the school systems would "rise to this level of disrespect" to King.

"The whole state of Georgia should be embarrassed, actually, by the action of both counties," he said in a phone interview Friday.

School officials in Habersham County, Ga.; Johnson City, Tenn.; and Charlotte, N.C., have also been criticized for using the holiday to make up lost days.

Friday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton urged parents to keep their children home Monday if local systems hold classes, The Associated Press reported.

Mark Henson, schools superintendent in Fannin County, said the system also used Presidents Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day as emergency days last year.

Besides those days, he said the system could use two more days in February and three in March. It's important to get the days in before the all-important state standardized tests are given in early April.

"We have to get days between now and the CRCT," Henson explained.

DuBose said he hoped school officials would reconsider.

"You can't help but to come to the conclusion that the population of his county is having some bearing on the leadership," DuBose said.

The 2009-10 state report card lists Gilmer County schools as 80 percent white and less than 1 percent black. Fannin County schools are 93 percent white and less than 1 percent black.

"Some people have characterized it as not honoring Martin Luther King," Dorsey said. "We certainly don't intend it to be that way, no more than we intended not to honor our presidents on the presidents' holiday that we had to take back."