ATLANTA -- A decision to use the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to make up a snow day in Georgia has infuriated civil rights leaders, who say the districts are insulting the civil rights icon in his home state.
Fannin and Gilmer counties in north Georgia and a school district in North Carolina are calling students to class on the federal holiday after school was wiped out for the week because of the epic snowstorm that paralyzed the state.
The superintendents from the districts said they had little choice to start making up for nine days missed because of the foul winter weather this school year. But civil rights leaders said the decision was an insult to King and shows disrespect for the holiday in his name.
"It's an opportunity for people, black and white, to reflect on what King's dream meant for blacks and whites," said Georgia State Conference NAACP President Edward DuBose. "And it's humiliating to hear that school districts want to take a snow day rather than to honor Dr. King's legacy."
The snowstorm forced school officials throughout the state to make tough decisions. Ice as thick as an inch-and-a-half that coated north Georgia roads forced many school administrators to cancel classes for the entire week, as they worried buses would slide on hilly roads.
Gilmer County schools superintendent Bryan Dorsey said his administrative team will "be sensitive" to the fact that his district's 4,000 students will be returning to class on Monday, though he said he wasn't sure yet whether teachers would give lessons on King.
"It's not our intention to try to remove holidays, but unfortunately, in these circumstances, we have very limited options," said Dorsey, who added that the district hasn't received any complaints about the move.
"Mostly what we have gotten is 'Thank goodness you're taking our children back.' Cabin fever has set in," Dorsey said.
Fannin County schools superintendent Mark Henson said the wintry weather has wreaked havoc on the district's calendar.
"Changing our school calendar is never easy for us, and we regret that we have had to make this decision," he said in an e-mail. "But we believe that it is in the best interest of our students to be in school as much as possible so that they can be successful in life."
The two counties are both in extreme north Georgia and both have populations that are more than 90 percent white.
And while the vast majority of Georgia school districts are not holding classes on Monday, the issue has cropped up in other states as well. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools decided to also hold classes on Monday, prompting criticism from the local NAACP chapter and a city councilman.
But the counties' decision struck a particular nerve in Georgia, the state where King was born and later the launching pad for the civil rights movement.
"Am I surprised? Probably not. But I'm disappointed," said state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat and a leader of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. "It's supposed to be a day of service, a day of reflection. And this sends a message that the home state of Dr. King may not fully value him."
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