School on MLK Day? Some Iowa City Parents Aren't Having It

By Gregg Hennigan and Mark Carlson, Reporters

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By Katie Stinson

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Following an outcry from the public, the Iowa City school board will consider cancelling school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day next month.

It is not clear, however, whether the board will actually take that step.

Some of the school board members at a meeting Tuesday night expressed support for cancelling school, while others wondered about the logistics and reasons for doing so.

The board voted 6-0, with Tuyet Dorau absent, to direct Superintendent Stephen Murley to explore ways to shift programming scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Jan. 20.

The board’s next scheduled meeting is Jan. 14. Members spoke last night of meeting Dec. 17, but a decision on that was not made by The Gazette’s deadline.

Also at deadline, the board was discussing a separate issue on a new visitor identification system planned for schools that has attracted criticism from many of the same people opposed to having classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Some community members said they were caught off guard by the school district’s decision to break from recent practice and hold class on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

This school year, school is scheduled for what administrators have said will be a day of service to honor and learn about the civil rights icon.

For the dozen people who addressed the school board Tuesday night, and a couple of dozen more in the audience holding small signs like “Honor MLK,” the change was seen as disrespectful.

“From what I’m seeing, it looks like we’re going backwards,” said local activist Royceann Porter.

Superintendent Stephen Murley said changing the school calendar would create scheduling difficulties and require cooperation with the teachers union because of the collective bargaining process.

He said the easiest solution probably would be to extend the school year by one day. But that would present a “significant challenge” with graduation.

Graduation ceremonies are held at Carver-Hawkeye Arena the Thursday and Friday before Memorial Day. The facility is unavailable the following week, and Murley said he’d have to inquire whether two ceremonies can be held Friday or one can be moved to Saturday.

Circe Stumbo of Iowa City said the district and the nation have overcome greater challenges.

“That’s why we honor Martin Luther King,” she said.

On the ID system, the district next month plans to require visitors to submit an identification card to a school office, which would then be scanned and used to perform a quick background check. Several forms of ID would be accepted.

Some people have said this could be a barrier to low-income people or immigrants who may lack identification. David Dude, the district’s chief operating officer, said visitors can bring in things like a transcript, letter from an employer or other documents and have an ID issued to them by the school.

The system is already used in four of the district’s schools.

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