By Alex Kline
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– School and the activities planned for Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) will continue as planned for Martin Luther King (MLK) Day on Jan. 20, 2014.
ICCSD Superintendent Stephen Murley informed the board that the Iowa Department of Education had no process for amending a district’s current calendar year at the Tuesday, Dec. 17, board meeting.
Murley said the school board was only allowed to do what the Department of Education allowed, and their answer had come late that afternoon. ”We have no authority (to change the calendar and call off school on MLK Day),” Murley said.
“The (department) has no administrative rules addressing a change to the school calendar or a process of considering or approving a change to the calendar,” Murley said. “A reminder that the district that Iowa schools are bound by Dillon’s Rule, school districts have no powers beyond those that are specifically delegated by the state.”
Several community members spoke of their disappointment in the board’s lack of action to stop school on MLK Day. Community members also voiced their frustrations with the board for their lack of engagement with the community on this issue.
One speaker spoke of the importance of honoring MLK day for children in the black community. “They need to understand who they are and have the feeling of knowing what Dr. Martin Luther King has done,” she said. “So I have a voice standing here, but I’m not really heard.”
Board members said they did all they could to look at options for changing school on MLK Day this year, but ultimately nothing could be done.
“I hope that people feel like they have been heard,” said board member Chris Lynch “I hope we can do better as we move forward.”
At its Dec. 10 board meeting, the board did vote to recommend the calendar committee consider not scheduling school on MLK Day for future years.
Many members of the public and some board members suggested the need for a closer connection with the Iowa City Coalition for Racial Justice and the Center for Worker Justice to prevent decisions like this from slipping through the board’s fingers before public outcry.
Board member Jeff McGinness not only moved to appoint liaisons that would meet with those two groups no less then quarterly and report back to the board, but also volunteered himself for the position or to attend the meetings on his own time.
Some board members were concerned about the overwhelming amount of community committees and that appointing these liaisons to each would be impossible.
“I would welcome any community organizations emailing the board and inviting us to attend their meetings,” said board president Sally Hoelscher, adding that the board had received a list that confirmed 364 community committees. “I am wary of beginning to appoint liaisons to every community organization that asks us to.”
Misty Rebik of the Center for Worker Justice said that the board needed to have officiated contact with these groups because some people weren’t comfortable coming to the board to discuss their issues.
“If you didn’t notice, a lot of people don’t come here to your meetings, a lot of people who you’re trying to make contact with. A lot of minorities and a lot of limited English speakers don’t come to this building and to your meetings,” Rebik said. “Having a liaison is the opportunity to come to their space and hear from them.”
Some board members, primarily McGinness, pushed for the importance of delegating a contact for the groups.
“In my mind, some [committees] are more important than others,” said McGinness. “And given what transpired with (MLK Day) and the fact that we as a board did not engage with the representatives of the African American community to make this decision. At this point we need to make a better effort at that.”
The motion to appoint McGinness and Brian Kirschling as liaisons to the Coalition for Racial Justice and Center for Workers Justice passed. Lynch, McGinness and Kirschling voted yes, and Hoelscher and Patti Fields opposed the motion. Tuyet Dorau was absent.