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Newton School Board decision to hold class on MLK Jr. Day an avoidable controversy

Published: Friday, July 12, 2013 11:28 a.m. CST

Several weeks ago, in fact long before it was officially approved last month by the Newton Community School District Board of Education, the 2013-14 school calendar was released to the public.

It showed a start date of Aug. 21, and and ending date -- barring "snow days" -- of May 29. It also had a built-in "make-up day" on Feb. 17, the federally-observed President's Day. It also showed 180 student contact days, the required minimum established by Iowa law.

Apparently, that last bit of information was in error. The calendar had 179 student contact days, not 180, so a day had to be added.

The school board had a number of options at its disposal. It could have opted to use the built-in make-up day. It could have opted to add a day at the end of the calendar. Or, as it ultimately decided, it could remove one other holiday from the calendar.

Its decision -- to send students to school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- has created some consternation, and even some mild anger, in the community. And, given the options on the table for the school board, it would seem they picked the one that would create controversy instead of dispel it.

Board member Nat Clark's incredibly insensitive comments regarding Good Friday aside, it isn't a federally recognized holiday. But it is, at least to most Christians, the most important day of the year. So, we appreciate the majority of the board's recognition of that fact.

In fact, one would guess the Rev. Dr. King would approve of not going to school that day.

Attending classes on a federally recognized holiday certainly hasn't been a problem, seeing as students have regularly attended on Columbus Day and even on Veterans Day. So, we look quizzically at the board's decision to pick MLK Day as opposed to President's Day -- the previously established make-up day.

Granted, Iowa weather almost always necessitates make-up days. But, it usually necessitates more than one. So, if avoiding "school in June" was an overriding factor in the board's decision, it would seem to be a muffed effort, at best.

Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, just taking on a day at the end of the previous calendar might have been the best option all the way around.

And if you don't like the school board's decision in this matter -- or, in any other matter -- you have a few options to consider. First, you could show up to a meeting and voice your concerns during the public comments portion of the meeting.

If you wanted to go a step farther, you could run for school board yourself. The filing period for candidacy in the Sept. 17 election is now open, and the deadline to file nomination papers ends Aug. 1.

But, most importantly, if you feel the current members of the school board aren't doing a good job of representing your interests, you might consider showing up at the September election. When turnout is only 3 percent, not very many can complain about what kind of representation they get.