HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Many students and school staff around the country had Monday, January 18 off from school to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 92nd birthday. Despite recognition for this federal holiday, the Hasbrouck Heights School District returned to hybrid, in-person and online learning. But one third grader from Lincoln School had something to say about it
“I am so impressed with Connor’s courage to have his voice heard and ask questions. He is an extremely brave boy," said Jillian Ferdinand, Hasbrouck Heights Board of Education president. "I know a lot of people that wouldn’t have the courage to speak up. The ability to speak in front of a large group of adults, even virtually, is extremely commendable.”
During Thursday night's Board of Education Zoom meeting, Connor Simmons, a third-grader from Lincoln School took the virtual floor, explaining to the Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Matthew Helfant why he felt it was wrong for the district to not have off of school for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. After helping write his ideas with his mom and practicing all week, Connor joined the Zoom meeting late Thursday night. He read to the BOE:
Good evening Dr Helfant and members of the Board of Education,
My name is Connor Simmons and I am a 3rd grade student at Lincoln School.
I am speaking tonight to say that I feel that school should have been closed for Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. Day. Dr. King was a special man that changed history and made the world a better place. I wish we all had the day to reflect on that. It is also a federal holiday. I hope that you consider making this a school holiday for next year.
Also, thank you for opening school this week. It has been nice to be back. Thank you for your time.
For Connor, this was an important issue to address.
“I thought it was important to speak up because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great man. He made a difference in the world and changed history. I did not think school should have been open on MLK Day," Connor explained. "I think students and school staff should have been given the day to reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King played a big part in ending segregation and led the Civil Rights Movement.”
His mother, Adrienne Simmons, acknowledged that she felt Connor’s courage was in part due to his interest in learning about American history and current events, as well as wanting to set a good example for his younger brother Hunter and twin sister Emma.
“When Connor asked me if he could speak at a Board of Education meeting to ask Dr. Helfant and the BOE members about explaining why he felt it wasn't right to have school open on MLK Day, it did take me by surprise," she said. "I told Connor if he can plan out what he wants to say with good reasons, I would allow and support him to speak. Watching my eight-year-old son demonstrate so much maturity and poise as he was speaking out to the Superintendent, members of the Board, and other participants at the meeting was one of my proudest moments. I was blown away by Connor's courage to do this, and I hope he always follows his heart and speaks up for what is right.”
Despite not having off for the day, Simmons’ third grade teacher, Jaclyn Musco, still engaged the students in lessons on what Simmons saw as an important day to commemorate.
“Our class recently finished a social studies unit where we studied the settlement experiences and contributions of different groups of Americans who came from other countries. The timing of the lesson was perfect as we discussed Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he helped in the fight for equal rights for African Americans shortly before MLK Day," Musco explained. "On Monday, the class listened to a read aloud called ‘My Brother Martin’ which was actually written by MLK's sister. The book addresses important issues like segregation and racism and sparked some great discussions in class.”
Although only being in third grade, Musco explained that Connor was wise and that she was on the other hand not surprised to see him take action.
“I was so impressed by Connor's willingness to speak in front of the BOE, though I can't say I was surprised. Connor is wise beyond his years and always stands up for what he believes in, and I know he was doing just that. It takes a lot of courage to speak in front of a crowd, and here you have a third-grader who did so with such maturity and grace. I am so proud of him," said Musco. "[In school] Connor mentioned that since there was no school on Columbus Day, there shouldn't be school on MLK Day either since it's a holiday honoring a man who did such great things for our country. Who would disagree with that?”
At the meeting on Thursday night, the Hasbrouck Heights Public Schools 2021-2022 School Calendar was approved, with January 17 being an In-Service for Staff, and just as Connor requested, off for students to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday.
“At the January Board of Education meeting we passed a new business resolution for the 2021-2022 school year. I’m happy to report that the students of Hasbrouck Heights School District will have the day off," said Ferdinand. "While we already had the calendar planned before our meeting, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Connor's message to the board allowed us to praise Connor for using his voice and speaking up for what he believes in. I hope this is something that stays with him for his whole life.”
“I have the pleasure of personally knowing the Simmons family because my daughter is in the same class as Connor. He is a great boy, and I know his family is so proud," she said.
While Connor is happy to hear news of a day off from school to recognize Dr. King in 2021, he has additional plans to continue to use his voice and help others in the future.
“I saw the school calendar for next year, and I'm really glad that school will be closed next year on MLK Day next year. I have participated in serving my community because I am a Cub Scout. I help out with a food drive every year and have participated in the community clean up,” Connor continued. “I would want to be like Dr. King one day because he made a difference and made the world a better place. I think it is important to speak up for what you believe in, just like Dr. King did. I think a day for service [on MLK’s birthday next year] in the communities would be nice. Some ideas I have would be organizing a food drive, helping to feed the homeless, or donating to a children's hospital.”
Editor’s Note: Emily Condon is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the “Pilot’s Log,” Hasbrouck Heights High School's award-winning student newspaper. In addition, she is a member of the Student Council, Junior Executive Board, the Black Hole, head organizer of Spirit Week, co-organizer of the Junior Formal with History teacher Catherine Cassidy, and member of the indoor and outdoor Track and Field teams.