- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

CHESTERFIELD, Va. Virginia's only school system choosing to stay open today on Martin Luther King Jr. Day is led by a black man who believes his students simply can't afford to take another day off from their studies.
But black leaders in suburban Richmond's Chesterfield County aren't buying it, saying Superintendent Billy Cannaday's decision merely reflects an all-white school board's lack of respect for what the holiday means to blacks.
"I am very respectful of the fact that the 20th is a very significant day not only for African Americans, but for all Americans," Mr. Cannaday said in defense of the move last week. "But I am also here to make sure that we are doing right by our kids."
Mr. Cannaday emphasized that the county's original calendar included today as a holiday.
But two days lost to snow in early December and another two days canceled in October because of concerns about the sniper attacks put the district in a bind to provide students enough instruction for standardized tests that begin in March.
Mr. Cannaday repeatedly has stressed the need for students to be present for the full course of instruction, citing test results that show that those who miss more days are more likely to get failing scores.
Mr. Cannaday's chief critic, Bishop Gerald O. Glenn of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church, said other days could have been used to make up for the lost time.
The district's treatment of Jan. 20 as an "expendable holiday," Bishop Glenn said, indicates that officials don't respect the decades-long battle and acts of Congress and state legislatures to gain widespread recognition for the holiday.
"Why should we give back something we fought so hard to obtain?" he asked.
"If one day is going to make or break our children, something is very wrong with this school system. That's the biggest fabrication I have heard in recent times."
Mr. Cannaday said the controversy has reinforced in him King's belief of education as an equalizer.
In the end, he said, it came down to the fact that the school calendar was simply too restrictively designed, with no built-in makeup days in case of snow or other circumstances.
The solution, he said, is to make sure next year's calendar allows more flexibility.
With snow falling during a school board meeting last week, Mr. Cannaday said, "I saw a snowflake falling today and I wondered, 'How many days are we going to lose now?'"
Still, Mr. Cannaday and the school board concede that some residents may disagree with their decision to hold school on the holiday. It is the only one of Virginia's 132 school systems to do so.
They said that they will not object if some parents take their children to participate in holiday events outside school but only with a written excuse.
To Bishop Glenn, that requirement is another source of irritation, demeaning to both student and parent in a manner that he likens to a slave being required to obtain permission from his master to go to town.
Bishop Glenn will speak at one of those outside events, a mass meeting and celebration held each year at the Arthur Ashe Center in Richmond and sponsored by the city's school system.
His daughter, a Chesterfield County public school student, will be with him and he won't be giving her a note to take to school.


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