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MLK HOLIDAY: Students Fight District’s Decision

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The Des Moines school district's decision to use Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a make-up snow day is stirring up some controversy.

The Des Moines NAACP youth council is pushing the district to reconsider.

“To simply belittle his success by allowing us to go to school and learn about something besides his legacy is something that we… can’t fathom because it’s so unbelievable,” said Avery Jackson.

Jackson is a senior at Hoover High School, and a member of the Des Moines Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's, or NAACP, Youth Council.

For Jackson and other NAACP members, MLK day is a day not only of respect, it's a chance to get out in the community and volunteer, celebrate with others, and put Dr. King's lessons into practice.

“He didn`t just talk about something, he did something. He motivates us. He lets us know we can accomplish something,” said Jackson.

And now Jackson is taking that lesson and applying it. He and the NAACP youth council are fighting the Des Moines school district's decision to use MLK day as a make-up snow day. The group has gathered signatures on a petition, written a letter to the school board, and is prepared to meet with them face to face to discuss their reasons for not wanting to have school that day. Jackson says there are many activities, events and celebrations planned, and if they have to be in school, they will miss out on them.

Phil Roeder with the school district said Martin Luther King Junior Day and President's Day have always been on the calendar as days to use as make-up. Without those days, the school year would go into June, something Roeder says many people have long spoken out against. The members of NCAAP however, said they would much rather take away from summer, than have to go to school on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

A committee decided the calendar about a year ago, and although Roeder said it was made up of a teachers, parents and administrators, Jackson said the group is missing a key component- students. He and fellow group members said they are talking to the district to see if they can get involved in the future to help with decisions like this.

District officials say changing the policy for this year is unlikely, but not impossible. A meeting for all principals in the Des Moines school district is being held on Thursday.  However, more likely, the meeting will give those ideas on how to make this MLK day a unique learning experience for students. Roeder said the district is currently brainstorming ideas to get kids more involved on MLK Day and use the fact that they are in school on that day to their advantage- they want to make it a learning experience.

“Rather than this being just a day of no school, we hope it’s a day where maybe some longer lessons can be learned about community service and Martin Luther King,” said Roeder.

Members of the NAACP say while they appreciate that, and look forward to helping with that initiative in future, their ultimate goal is still to see a change, if not this year, then next year.

“It’s more than just a day off because he’s more than just a man. He didn't just write a book or say a speech. He changed something,” said Jackson.