Carroll County's decision to scrap the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in its schools has triggered angry phone calls and condemnation, but school officials said yesterday they are not backing down.
The county's African-American community and local teachers unions have criticized the decision -- approved by the school board Wednesday -- and a woman hired by the district to recruit minority teachers has joined in the criticism.
"My first reaction was, how can they do this without consulting the community," said Kellee Bosley, an African-American resident who has lived in the county more than 20 years. "There's one day when we celebrate a great man like Martin Luther King and what he stood for, and we're saying to our children that it's not important."
Along with dropping the King holiday, the board eliminated a holiday known as Presidents Day, which recognizes George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Pupils who have spent previous holidays at the mall or in front of the television will gain a greater appreciation for those figures and their achievements by being in school, board members said.
Carroll Superintendent William H. Hyde and his administrators defended the decision during an afternoon news conference in Westminster yesterday and said the calendar changes will benefit pupils.
"It's our belief that the calendar presents an opportunity for increased percentages of children in the county to be made aware of the contributions of these three individuals [King, Washington and Lincoln]," said Dorothy Mangle, assistant superintendent of instruction.
The board's action makes Carroll the only Maryland school system to require pupils to attend classes on the day honoring the slain civil rights leader.
Critics have said the decision is a major step backward for race relations in Carroll, where African-Americans make up less than 3 percent of the county's population of 150,000.
Phyllis Black, a consultant hired in October by the school board to help county school officials with recruitment of minority teachers, said the board's action won't help those efforts. Minority instructors make up less than 2 percent of Carroll's teaching force of 1,648.
"I am totally stunned and very disappointed," she said. "African-Americans and other races are not going to sit back and just take this lightly."
At the invitation of county residents working to restore an NAACP chapter in Carroll, Hyde and school board member C. Scott Stone attended the group's meeting last night to discuss the removal of the King holiday.
The gathering of about 20 people at Union Memorial Baptist Church in Westminster was generally respectful, but there was one heated exchange.
Stone told the group that he would not ask the board to reconsider its decision, even if he received thousands of letters from people who disagreed with it. He said he needed something substantive to change his mind.
"To say this meeting is not of substance is a total insult," said group secretary Thelma Smith.
"Let's say you got 80,000 people on a petition -- that's half the county -- who said what you did was wrong," asked the Rev. Robert E. Walker, pastor of Union Street Methodist Church in Westminster, who was visibly frustrated.
Stone said, "What I'm looking for is the argument that will change my mind about why having off on that day is paramount to having your children in school."
Black responded, "I'm afraid if we just let it go, and it becomes just another day in school, his whole legacy is going to go right out the window."
Carey Gaddis, a schools spokeswoman, said she handled several negative calls yesterday about the board's actions, but a few callers said it was a good idea.
Hyde said he hopes the changes to the holidays do not send the message that Carroll is an unfriendly place for minorities.
"I think there's great symbolism to the day, and it's very difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of another," he said.
Carroll schools had been closed on the King holiday for teachers and pupils since 1988. The holiday was used as a professional day for teachers last year.
One of the biggest criticisms of board members has been that the holidays were eliminated with little opportunity for public comment. In a proposed calendar released in December and developed by school staff, schools were closed on the King holiday and Presidents Day for teachers and pupils.
"I thought it was a done deal and thanked the board in advance," said Sykesville resident George Murphy, who urged the board at two previous meetings to close schools for teachers and pupils on the King holiday.
Stone said the calendar was public information and citizens had at least two months to make comments on any proposed changes. However, board members did not float the possibility of eliminating the holidays before Wednesday's meeting.
Bosley, who said she hasn't been heavily involved in the community, said she'll be attending more school board meetings in the future.
"There's not enough African-Americans who come out to the meetings," she said. "That's our fault, and I think we need to take a stand."
Pub Date: 2/12/99