Lawmaker wants to make King holiday mandatory

Delegate hopes effort will help Carroll's image

February 21, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Hoping to improve his county's tarnished image after the school board's effort to scrap Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a Carroll lawmaker wants to make the holiday a mandatory day off for pupils statewide.

Under current state law, the slain civil rights leader's day -- like Washington's Birthday, Lincoln's Birthday, Veterans Day, Columbus Day and Arbor Day -- is an optional holiday for school jurisdictions.

But in the bill introduced on Friday by Del. Joseph M. Getty, schools would be required to give students the day off, similar to Thanksgiving, Christmas break and the Friday before and the Monday after Easter.

"I think it's the right thing to do," said Getty. "My reasoning is to allow Carroll County Board of Education to have an opportunity to make this commitment and recommend it be put in state code. It's something we can rally and work together on." Getty's bill follows a tumultuous week for the Carroll school board, which removed the King holiday from the school calendar. With the decision Carroll would have been the only jurisdiction in the state to hold classes on the King holiday. Members argued students would be better served by going to school on that day and learning about King's achievements. The board also eliminated Presidents Day for the same reason.

The board's Feb. 10 decision was met with public outcry. On Monday, about 40 people staged a rally at school offices in Westminster, demanding the King holiday be restored.

On Tuesday, a contrite board voted unanimously to reinstate both holidays.

Controversy over the board's elimination of King day was heard as far as Annapolis, where Getty feared it could damage his dele- gation's agenda.

"There's a lot of concern over what took place. And it does impact our work down here in terms of bills we want to get out," he said, later adding: "I don't think it will be specifically retaliation, but it could color a legislator's decision on whether to support a bill."

To promote the bill, Getty said he would invite Carroll County Superintendent William H. Hyde and the school board to support it.

"I wanted to make sure that Carroll County had an opportunity to address the committees, explain what happened and support making this a mandatory holiday," he said.

School board President Gary W. Bauer said he would support the bill and testify in Annapolis if asked.

Bauer said Getty's bill would correct the state law that makes Martin Luther King Day and other federal holidays optional for schools.

"When they were declared federal holidays, they should have adjusted the code so these are school days off. Why didn't they make it holiday to begin with?" he asked.

One member of Carroll's African-American community was not convinced that a mandatory King holiday would solve race relation issues.

Pub Date: 2/21/99

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