- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

RICHMOND More than 600 people gathered at a Chesterfield County church Saturday to protest the county's decision to send children to school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, arguing that the move is racist and harkens back to slavery.
About a dozen speakers chastised the all-white School Board and Superintendent Billy K. Cannaday Jr., who is black, for holding classes on the federal and state holiday.
The county added the school day to make up one of two snow days in December. The school system had not built any snow days into the current year's calendar, and students also missed two days in the fall during the sniper shootings.
"We are here to tell the majority culture of Chesterfield County that they cannot tell the minority culture how we ought to remember our heroes," said William Eric Jackson, pastor of Emmanuel Community Church. "We are the interpreters of our own history. Yes, King was for education, but education without moral principle is reprehensible."
Opel Simmons, brother-in-law of rally organizer Bishop Gerald O. Glenn, said the decision is unforgivable.
"That Cannaday is black doesn't make this decision any more palatable," Mr. Simmons said. "In fact, it makes it more reprehensible to us."
Mr. Cannaday was out of town this weekend and unavailable for comment, but he has said King, an advocate of education, would have supported the decision.
School Board Chairman James Schroeder said Saturday that he has "a deep respect for anyone who has the passion to uphold the values which Martin Luther King represented.
"I regret that our decision to have school on Martin Luther King Day has been interpreted by some as devaluing the principles for which he lived," he said.
"Whether school is open or closed is not what sets Martin Luther King Day apart."
School officials maintain that students need the makeup day to prepare for the state's mandatory Standards of Learning exams.
A school system spokeswoman said research shows scores suffer when students miss more than 10 days.
King Day is the only holiday being used as a makeup day by the school district.
"It's extraordinary circumstances that bring us to this," spokeswoman Debra Q. Marlow said.
Chesterfield has said absences on Jan. 20 will be excused if students bring notes from parents.
But Mr. Glenn compared that to forcing slaves to carry notes from their masters when they left the plantation.


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