The Collier County NAACP filed a complaint with Collier County Public Schools on Saturday over the School Board’s decision to hold class on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 15, to make up for academic days lost to Hurricane Irma.
The decision was made at the Sept. 26 School Board meeting, which was held at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administration Center.
The complaint was also emailed to all five School Board members.
“We are extremely disappointed with this decision,” the complaint reads, noting 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination.
The revised calendar originally proposed by CCPS did not include MLK Day as a makeup day. However board members said they’d received complaints from parents and teachers about the district’s proposal to hold school on the first day of winter break.
School Board Vice Chairwoman Erika Donalds said the board did the best it could given the difficult circumstances.
“The primary feedback I got was to keep the large breaks the same — Thanksgiving, Christmas and the end of the year,” she said. “If there were other holidays we could’ve pulled from we would have, but this was really the only thing we could do.”
The School Board voted unanimously to hold school on MLK Day, Presidents Day, the first day of spring break, a teacher professional development day and a teacher planning day.
The district’s only hurricane day, Nov. 10, which is Veterans Day (observed), had already been set aside to make up for the flood day in August.
The board also advised there be programming on MLK Day, Presidents Day and Veterans Day to commemorate those holidays, to which Superintendent Kamela Patton agreed.
NAACP President Vincent Keeys said he thinks the School Board should extend the two half days leading to winter break to accommodate for MLK Day.
In the event the board rejects his proposal, Keeys said he asked the board to gear instruction on King’s assassination day — April 4 — to the teachings of the civil rights leader.
“Here’s a man that gave his life so that we could have equality,” Keeys said. “And I believe that should be taught constantly — not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but every day.”
When asked about the legality of holding classes on a federal holiday, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Meghan Collins did not provide a clear answer.
Local reports indicate other states have opted to hold class on MLK Day following major storms, such as after the polar vortex of 2013.
Florida State Board of Education member Tom Grady was also unable to speak to the legality of the issue but said considering King’s struggle to ensure equal access to education, holding classes on MLK Day would be an appropriate way to honor his legacy.
“He lamented the achievement gap, which, sadly, has only worsened since his death,” Grady said.
To use this as an opportunity to educate all children “is something I’m sure he would appreciate and welcome under these circumstances.”
Executive Director of the ACLU Florida chapter Howard Simon said he, too, was not sure of the legality of holding classes on a federal holiday.
At the very least, Simon said, schools should dedicate a considerable portion of the day to commemorating what the holiday is all about.
“I don’t think students can understand the culture and the country they are growing up in unless they learn about the historic struggle that continues to this very day to include all groups in the promise of equal treatment,” he said.
From before the time America was born, to present, the struggle for equal rights for all minority groups has served as the primary characterization of our nation’s history, he said.
“That is too fundamental a lesson to ignore.”