D.C. Area Schools Debate Canceling Classes Jan. 20

By Daniel de Vise and Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Prince George's County school board is to vote today on an emergency resolution to close schools Jan. 20 to mark "a day of great historical significance, in that the first African American President of the United States of America will be inaugurated." Loudoun County's school board voted Tuesday to release students from classes on Inauguration Day. And Howard County school officials were told yesterday to work with employees and parents who want to take the day off and to make sure classes are covered for everyone else.

Across the Washington region, school systems are debating whether Inauguration Day should be a holiday or a teachable moment.

Rosalind Johnson, a Prince George's school board member, said there would be little point in holding classes in her county, which is a short Metro ride from the White House. Eighty-nine percent of Prince George's voters cast ballots for President-elect Barack Obama.

"We're not going to have any children in school anyhow, and the staff isn't coming, either," said Johnson (District 1). Noting the tenor of the e-mails she has received, she said, "Enthusiasm doesn't even begin to touch it."

Montgomery County schools will remain open. "We have no plans to close school on Inauguration Day," said Brian Edwards, chief of staff to Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. "Indeed, it will be a historic moment, and I am certain that many teachers will use it as part of their lessons that day."

Some systems, including those in the District, Alexandria and Fairfax County, had already planned to be closed for the day. D.C. schools would face an insurmountable logistical hurdle in remaining open, officials said. Alexandria and Fairfax recognize it as a holiday.

Arlington County schools will release students for the day. Elementary schools in Prince William County will be in session for a half-day because of parent-teacher conferences, and students in Frederick County, Md., will be off because of a teacher workday.

Most other Washington area systems list Jan. 20 as a school day, but some are reconsidering. Some teachers and parents are lobbying to create a holiday; others just want the day off.

Opinion is divided. The date falls at the end of a marking period for many schools, and some teachers are scheduled to give final exams. Some instructors would like to use the occasion as a classroom topic, but others want to join the throng on the Mall.

"There's been debate going on on our online forum," said Tom Israel, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Association.

Bill Fisher, president of the teachers union in Charles County, said he had received several calls from teachers requesting a holiday.

Anne Arundel County school officials said they had fielded requests to declare a holiday but had made no decision, spokesman Bob Mosier said.

Johnson, in Prince George's, predicted that schools will shut down. "The best teachable moment," she said, "is to go down and be in the crowd and let the children be a part of the experience."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company