Several MLK Day posters are hung throughout PCM High School (Chris VerHeul)
Several MLK Day posters are hung throughout PCM High School

Chris VerHeul

MLK day not for PCM?

February 2, 2022

Each year our nation celebrates the birthday of famed activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on the third Monday in January. The day is a national holiday created during the Reagan administration that serves as a reminder of the lessons King taught the world during his life. As it is one of the eleven national holidays, many public schools take the day off in honor of King and his work, and some districts take the day to teach students about King, his activism and the importance of doing what you think is right. This raises the question of what school should do on MLK Day.

 Of the six schools in the PCM area – Pella, PCM, Knoxville, South East Polk, Colfax-Mingo and Newton – only three schools do not take a day off. PCM, Knoxville and Newton have a normal school day like any other week. The other schools have a professional development day and no classes. It is not mandatory for public schools to take a day off or teach about King on MLK day, but some schools do so as a practice. Colfax-Mingo superintendent Erik Anderson expressed similar reasons as to why his district does take the day off despite it not being mandatory.

“Colfax-Mingo has MLK Day off for students and has professional development for teachers. It is a natural break for us between semesters. We fully support the idea of no school on MLK Day, but it is not connected to any staff contracts or school policy. It is merely a practice that we follow,” Anderson said.

Within the PCM high school, some teachers take on the task of educating students about King and his importance. These educators hold the belief that it is crucial to learn from King and about activism. One high school teacher, John Schaeffer, a history teacher, teaches students about King during the class’s curriculum and on MLK day. 

“He is one of the most famous martyrs in history, meaning for what his purpose was and how famous he was and how famous his death was, it is one of the most importants events in our history,” Schaeffer said.

The majority of Iowa schools count the school year in hours. PCM requires students to complete 1080 hours per school year. This calendar is set out by a state guideline that gets passed down to school districts. The school districts have a calendar committee meet to create a calendar for the school year, then that calendar goes to a public hearing. One of the main goals of the committee is to get the school year completed before Memorial Day. To accomplish this, PCM does not take off six of the federal holidays

It’s not that we don’t think it’s not important but there are 11 federal holidays that we don’t take off and MLK Day is one,” said PCM superintendent Dr. Michelle Havenstrite, “I let the committee decide which days to take off. I want to create a calendar that works best for students and their families, and I really want to get more students involved with that calendar committee…As educators we should really want our students to go out into the world knowing that they have a voice, that they can use their voice. And that’s the thing about Martin Luther King Jr. He stood for that voice.”

Having school on MLK Day is a debatable topic, but ultimately it is up to the schools and their communities to decide. What schools do with their calendar should belong to who it affects the most, as Senator Chuck Grassley expressed. 

“I firmly believe that students thrive when states and local communities are given the freedom to craft their education plans according to the unique needs of their students. When governments do make decisions that impact education, it should be at a level of government as close as possible to the parents and children who are affected. When this principle is violated, even with good intentions, the results are not good for children and usually result in more bureaucracy like standardized tests and top-down requirements,” Grassley said.

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