Carroll County school officials eliminated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday for pupils yesterday -- a move sharply criticized by local African-American and teachers union leaders .
The decision makes Carroll the only Maryland school system to require pupils to attend classes on the day honoring the slain civil rights leader.
Along with scrapping the Martin Luther King holiday, the five-member board voted unanimously to keep pupils in school on what Carroll officials call Presidents Day, a day when schools close in recognition of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Critics called the board's action on the King holiday a serious symbolic blunder in an overwhelmingly white county that is often perceived by minorities as an unwelcoming place. African-Americans make up less than 3 percent of Carroll's population of 150,000.
"I go all over the state and the thing I continually hear from people of color about Carroll County is that it is not a friendly place to go because the sense is that the county still reflects what Maryland was like a century ago," said Hal Fox, who represents Carroll County teachers for the Maryland State Teachers Association.
"I believe it's untrue," Fox said. "But the image is there, like it or not."
Ralph Blevins, president of the Carroll County Teachers Association, said the decision to eliminate the King holiday will hurt minority recruitment efforts.
"It's a giant step backward," he said.
Board members predicted their decision would be viewed as politically incorrect. However, they maintain that county students will be better served by learning about the historical figures recognized by the holidays, instead of spending their days at the local mall.
Pub Date: 2/11/99