A Rock Hill civil rights advocate on Monday called on the school district to never again hold classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"We are making this request because of what this holiday means to us," Melvin Poole, president of the Rock Hill chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the school board. "Martin Luther King gave his life to service and for the good of mankind. His day is a day of remembrance and should not be disturbed."
Poole addressed the board at a public meeting Monday, a week after schools opened on the MLK holiday to make up for a snow day. No board member or district official responded to Poole.
The reason the holiday was used as a snow makeup day, Superintendent Lynn Moody has said, is that five unpaid employee-furlough days were added to the calendar last spring to help make up for state budget cuts. That left officials with just holidays - Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day and Memorial Day - to designate as the minimum three makeup days required by law, she said.
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State law also requires districts that furlough teachers to do so on days when students aren't in class, so school officials chose teacher workdays, which in the past doubled as bad-weather makeup days.
Poole pointed to school districts in York, Clover, Chester County and Lancaster County, which also closed for snow but didn't use Jan. 17 as a makeup day.
"To us, your action represented an attempt to return to the ways of the past," Poole told the board. "After all, South Carolina was the last state in the union to approve the King holiday and York County was next to the last county in the state to approve it. Basically, we were among the last group in America to recognize the MLK holiday."
Rock Hill school officials plan calendars a year in advance. A committee drafts a calendar for Moody to recommend to the school board.
Moody's staff is drafting a calendar for 2011-2012 that tacks on three makeup days to the end of the school year to avoid using holidays. Nothing has been finalized.
The decision to hold classes last Monday sparked a backlash across the region. Civil rights leaders, addressing several Southeastern school systems, called the decision an insult to King's legacy.
The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, among others, said schools in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina should find other ways to make up school days.
Moody and her staff fielded calls from people on both sides of the issue.
More than 1,800 Rock Hill students, or nearly 11 percent of total enrollment, missed school on MLK Day, according to district figures. That compares with an average of about 3 percent on a typical school day. Attendance figures for the last snow makeup day (Feb. 15, 2010) were unavailable, Rock Hill schools spokeswoman Elaine Baker said.
In Fort Mill, the only other York County district to hold classes on the King holiday, 7 percent of the district's 10,385 students missed school. That compares with an average of 3.5 percent on a typical Monday and 4 percent on the last snow makeup day (Feb. 15), according to district figures.
In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, almost 24,000 students, or 18 percent of enrollment, were absent on the King holiday. That compares with an average of 5 percent on normal days and 11 percent on the last snow makeup day (Feb. 15), CMS officials reported.
Vote for furlough swap
The board did vote Monday on how to make up for more bad weather this school year.
If another day is lost to winter weather, it would count as one of the two remaining furlough days now scheduled for March 25 and June 3. The district burned through all three makeup days on this year's calendar to make up for three days that schools were closed during a winter storm earlier this month.
The board voted to swap furloughs for snow days if needed after a majority of teachers surveyed responded in favor of that option over other choices, such as holding school on Saturday, extending the school year, cutting into spring break or lengthening several school days.
Of the district's 1,200 teachers, 782 responded, according to Baker. Of those, 661 favored a furlough swap.