Silver Spring, Maryland — The Montgomery County Maryland public school board voted December 9 to declare Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, a school holiday. Acting on a resolution put forward by member Chris Barclay, the 8 member Montgomery County School Board unanimously passed the resolution, rejecting School Superintendant Jerry Weast’s proposal to keep schools open on Inauguration Day.
Barclay’s amendment not only makes the upcoming historic inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, a holiday, it makes future inauguration days automatic school holidays.
The Montgomery County Public School system was the only holdout among the capital area’s large school systems that had not designated Inauguration Day a holiday. The Federal government, the DC government and the governments of the surrounding area also close for Presidential inaugurations.
Shortly after Barack Obama won the November election, Montgomery County parents began petitioning Superintendant Jerry Weast, demanding recognition of this historic occasion by declaring a school holiday to allow children to attend the festivities in person. More than 3,000 people signed an email petition and many sent individual emails in support of making inauguration day a holiday. There are nearly 138,000 students enrolled in the Montgomery County public schools.
Nearly 3 weeks ago, Superintendant Weast recommended that the Montgomery County School Board keep the schools open on inauguration day, despite widespread parent and teacher objections. He said that the Montgomery County Public School system had scheduled only 4 contingency days for snow and other unexpected events warranting school closings. He also said that many of the students would not be able to attend the Presidential inaugural in person even if schools were closed. Weast based his recommendation in part on the contention that closing the schools for the inauguration would present childcare issues for some parents and keep those scheduled to receive free breakfast and lunch at school from receiving those meals at school that day. The latter two arguments would pertain to any school closing, particularly one that happened without notice.
Some high school final exams, originally scheduled to be taken on Inauguration Day, will now be moved to other days.
As one of the many parents who petitioned both Superintendant Weast and the School Board to make Inauguration Day an official school holiday, I am pleased that the School Board unanimously resolved the issue not only for this inauguration but for future inaugurations as well. My son’s high school excused absence policy would not allow him to attend the inauguration without penalty. I find this objectionable on multiple levels: public schools should encourage good citizenship. The Montgomery County public schools, bordering the nation’s capital, are uniquely situated so that their students can easily attend major national political events such as the presidential inaugural in person. Students absent from school to attend national political events should have those absences excused on both educational and patriotic grounds. Any inauguration occurring during the tenure of a teen’s 4 high school years is necessarily the last one before that teen will gain the right and responsbility of voting. Encouraging interest and participation in national politics is particularly crucial at this time.
The Inaugural Committee recently decided to keep the entire length of the Mall open to accommodate the unprecedented crowds of people hoping to get a glimpse of the inaugural parade and swearing in ceremony.
Sources: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/inauguration-watch/2008/11/will_montgomery_county_close_s.html; MCPS press release, http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/press/index.aspx?pagetype=showrelease&id=2437; http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/19/AR2008111904016.html; http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/schools/; http://www.opm.gov/operating_status_schedules/fedhol/2009.asp.