School Talk

Guest Post: MLK Day should not be used as a snow makeup day

By Shawnta Barnes

Depending on when school districts returned from winter break in Indiana, they have already had 1-2 school cancellations due to inclement weather.  Indiana students are required to attend school for 180 instructional days.  When school is cancelled, districts have to grapple with the best plan of action to makeup the missed instructional time.

I worked in MSD of Wayne Township on Indy’s west side for five years.  In Wayne Township, students attend school for 182 instructional days.  If one or two days are missed, there is no need to makeup a day because the calendar already has two extra days of instruction.

My children attend school in MSD of Washington Township, which spans the NW & NE side of Indy, and this is their inclement weather policy:

*Jan. 15 will be used as a makeup day for a single school cancellation occurring on or prior to Dec. 21, 2017. Any additional school cancellation(s) occurring prior to Dec. 21 will use Feb. 19 as a makeup day and then be added to the end of the school year (starting May 24, 2018).

** Feb. 19 will be used as a makeup day for a single school cancellation occurring Jan. 8 – Feb. 2, 2018.

Any school cancellation(s) occurring on or after Feb. 5, 2018 will be added to the end of the school year (starting May 24, 2018).

I also wanted to look at an inclement weather policy outside of Indy, so I looked at Elkhart Community Schools’ policy:

Elkhart Community Schools has five days built into the 2017-2018 as make-up days, to be used if there is a school cancellation: February 16, May 14, May 25, June 7, and June 8 (these days are currently scheduled as “no school” – if a closing is needed, school will be in session on one or more of these days). The Indiana Department of Education mandates that each school shall conduct at least 180 student instructional days (IC 20-30-2-3). If ECS exceeds five days of school closings, additional days will be added to the end of the school calendar.

Students in some school districts today are attending school on MLK Day and I believe this is plain wrong.  This issue faced some heavy debate in 2014.  If you lived in Indianapolis then, you know we had a major snow storm that closed down schools for a week and even shut down businesses including the government for day.  I was working in Wayne Township at the time and for several Tuesdays and Thursdays extra time was added to the end of the school day to make up the missed instructional time. But one of Indy’s school districts, Franklin Township, held school on MLK Day as a snow makeup day and so did many suburban school districts surrounding Indy where the black student population is low.  I remember colleagues, who had children that attended school in the suburbs, being upset about this especially my colleagues of color.  Some kept their children out of school in protest.  The debate in Indy that year was also detailed in the USA Today article, “Snow makeup Day or MLK Day?

Although we have had mild winters since the 2014 winter storm, some school districts in who didn’t use MLK Day as a snow makeup day in 2014, now use it as a snow makeup day.  Today, students on Indy’s south side in Perry Township are attending school as a snow makeup day for the school cancellation that took place on Friday, January 12, 2017.

I know some of you are already rolling your eyes because of the argument, “If students attend school they can learn about MLK instead of lounging around” or “MLK was an education champion, so he won’t mind if students attend school.”  Most schools, have already covered MLK.  You know, they handed out some cute pinterest worksheet or storybook…that is at least what came home in my children’s backpacks.  When I asked my sons what they learned about MLK, they told me not as much as we learned from you and daddy when we went to the MLK National Memorial last year during spring break.

One of my sons said all he remembers from the MLK lesson this year was, “the teacher said we can all attend school together now because of him.”  I know my sons are in first grade, but I expect more than this but at least this is better than what my son told me after his kindergarten MLK lesson last school year.  “Mommy, Martin Luther King was colorbind; he didn’t see color.”  That comment prompted me to have an in person conversation with his teacher.  This is where I learned he listened to a song, “A Man name King” which is sung to the tune of the song, “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.”  One of the lyrics was, “Martin’s eyes were colorblind.”  Save me the speeches about the school is going to do a better job of teaching my black children about their history and about our struggles in this country.  My husband and I had to reteach what was he improperly taught.

No, not every child is sitting at home eating chips and candy watching Netflix.  Teens who are part of We Live Indy are hosting a “Take a Stand” rally at Warren Central High School on their day off from school.  Many churches and community groups have planned meaningful activities for students to attend and most of these groups champion diversity year-round and MLK Day is one day in bigger series of events for the community.

To address the point that Dr. King would not have minded.  He is not here to give a response so there’s not much to say about that.

Until schools do a better job teaching diverse history and understand how to properly integrate a culturally responsive curriculum throughout the year, I believe MLK Day should never be used as a snow makeup day even if there will be educational activities about him.  This day should be a day of reflection, a checkpoint to evaluate if you are really implementing his beliefs in your life every day.

In case you were wondering what my family is doing today, we are going to our church to hear Dr. King’s nephew, Dr. Derek King, speak during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium to offer Hope, Help & Healing.

*This post first ran here at the blog Educator Barnes.

Shawnta S. Barnes is a married mother of identical twin boys. As an Indiana native, she attended school in two Indianapolis school districts; she attended Indianapolis Public Schools for two years and completed her education in Lawrence Township Schools. Her sons entered kindergarten during the 2016-2017 school year and now she is experiencing Indianapolis schools from the parent perspective.

Shawnta is a literacy coach for Indianapolis Public Schools, an adjunct instructor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis School of Education, and a 2016-2017 Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow. Previously, she has taught English grades 6-9 and has been an elementary English language learner teacher. She earned her B.A. in English education from Purdue University and her M.S. in language education from IUPUI. Her blog, ‘Educator Barnes’, can be found here. 

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