The Grand County School District should honor the memory of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. by canceling classes on his birthday, a group of student protesters said this week.
School officials counter that they already do that by gearing their educational curriculum toward the day, with numerous activities that teach students about King’s life and legacy.
“It’s just about trying to create educational classroom activities around Dr. King’s life,” Grand County School Superintendent Scott Crane said Jan. 20.
KSL TV first reported that Grand County High School junior Madison Johnson and others gathered outside the high school on Jan. 19 to read King’s speeches and letters.
Johnson told the Salt Lake City station that her actions were inspired in part by her biracial 6-year-old sister.
“I hope that what I do today definitely sets up the future, and what it will look like for her,” she said, according to KSL.
Protest organizers could not be reached for comment by press time this week. But Crane estimated that about 10 students attended the protests.
The district has also received one letter that asks the Grand County Board of Education to revise its calendar for the 2015-2016 school year.
The board planned to review the issue at its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 21. At the time, board members had to decide whether or not they want a calendar committee to take another look at the current schedule for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Crane said he is not aware of any past controversies surrounding the district’s decision to hold classes on King’s birthday, which is a state and federal holiday.
“This has been a school day since I’ve been here,” Crane said. “It isn’t something new.”
According to Crane, district officials previously determined that appropriately themed activities on Jan. 19 would be the best way to honor the slain civil rights leader’s life.
Grand County High School, for instance, held quizzes throughout the day that focused on King, his role in history and his accomplishments.
“We believe that was a great way to celebrate his legacy,” King said.
Beyond the high school, Crane said that Grand County Middle School’s events highlighted the reasons why King is such an important figure in American history, while explaining why his birthday is a federal holiday.
Helen M. Knight Elementary Principal Taryn Kay said that specific activities at her school are tailored to students’ ages, as well as the social studies curricula at each grade level.
Sixth grade students wrote their own “I Have A Dream” essays, with an emphasis on current world events and their dreams for a better world. Students in the younger grades focused on ways they can be better citizens and impact their community on a local level, Kay said.
While Crane said he isn’t aware of previous concerns about classes on MLK Day, he said the district has received past requests from residents who asked the district to cancel classes on Veterans Day.
Students currently celebrate that federal holiday with high-profile events at the Grand County Courthouse and Helen M. Knight Elementary.
“We have wonderful programs at HMK on Veterans Day,” Crane said. “(The veterans) really appreciate them.”
Former Grand County Board of Education member Byron Walston just stepped down after 16 years on the board. During that time, he said, he didn’t hear from constituents who objected to the idea of scheduled classes on Jan. 19.
“There really haven’t been any complaints about Martin Luther King Day,” Walston said.
He did, however, hear from people who believe that holidays interspersed throughout the school year cut into their summer breaks.
“I’ve heard people say that the more time off we give kids or teachers (during the school year), the more time they have to work in the summer,” he said.
If he had any say on the most appropriate way to celebrate King’s birthday, Walston said he’d like to keep the current calendar in place.
“I like it the way it is right now,” he said.
District says day’s activities honor memory of civil rights icon
“This has been a school day since I’ve been here … It isn’t something new.”