Madison Parents Question School Board over Neglect of Martin Luther King Day

Credits: Liz Keill

MADISON, NJ – Several parents spoke up at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night regarding the handling of Martin Luther King Day.
A Loantaka Way resident said she wanted to hear a compelling reason for not treating it as a holiday. “It wasn’t even noted in the calendar,” she said. “I specifically asked to re-open the conversation.” She said many communities participate and she wanted an explanation.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Rossi said there are a number of restrictions regarding the calendar, such as ending school the third week in June and a contract with teachers not to begin classes before Sept. 1.  “I’ll be glad to entertain suggestions for the entire scope of the calendar,” he said. “It’s not about one day. It’s the entire school year. No one’s side stepping the issue.”
Board President Lisa Ellis said that graduation day was set and that no one wants to go into the last week of June for school. “It has to be looked at as a whole,” she said.
Board member Dave Arthur said, “The spirit of the celebration is more important. What can we do as a community to honor Dr. King?” He said by combining the school day with special events, students and teachers would have ‘the best of both worlds.” He added, however, that not every class made a commitment to the day in educating students about the civil rights movement.  “We should have a broad program to address all of these holidays,” he said, such as Veterans Day.
Resident Steve Wells spoke up for the board, saying the calendar discussion was “as open a process as it could possibly be. The board weighed all the comments and considerations.”  He added, “People show up when there’s something they don’t agree it.”
Board member Debra Coen said she teaches in West Orange, where students had MLK day off. “But it was never mentioned,” she said.
Another parent said she had moved to Madison from New Orleans. “I was shocked,” she said of how little was done in terms of service programming. “Calendar decisions reflect values. You’re sending a message.”
Ellis responded, “You’re bringing a whole new perspective. This is not a very diverse community. Lots of kids are not as aware as you think they are.” She said none of the board’s actions were meant as a sign of disrespect. “This is not a vote we’re taking right now.  We have a window of time.”

Ellis urged those who spoke up to be part of the process.

In other school matters, Rossi gave a violence and vandalism report for Sept. 1 through Dec. 31. There were four incidents, he said, two at the high school and two at the middle school, resulting in two suspensions. They all took place on school property.  He thanked all those who took part in the World Café, which was the first component for the Strategic Plan. An Action Committee was appointed and comments will be published. He also addressed school closings. “Decisions are made exclusively on safety,” he said. Early dismissal is the most difficult for parents to deal with, he said, but his concern is that everyone arrives home safely, including employees. “We all look forward to spring,” he said.
The board also heard reports on district finances and curriculum. The next board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24, in the high school media center.

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