What have we come to when those the Collier County School Board apparently listened to in reaching its decision preferred to maintain the district’s long winter break rather than sacrifice one day of that long winter break to maintain MLK’s birthday as a school holiday in 2018? An observer from another country, or another galaxy (for Star Wars fans), might find it a puzzling and untimely choice given the challenging state of race relations in this country at this moment.
Indeed, in signing H.R. 3706, Public Law 98-144, the bill making the birthday of MLK a national holiday, President Ronald Reagan noted that Dr. King had awakened something strong and true, a sense that true justice must be colorblind, and that among white and black Americans, as he put it, “Their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom; we cannot walk alone.” But President Reagan also recognized that traces of bigotry still mar America. So, each year on Martin Luther King Day, our nation has decided to honor Dr. King by setting aside a day each year to remember him and the just cause he stood for. Let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the Commandments he believed in and sought to live every day, “Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The danger in the school board’s action is that Collier County Public Schools, along with other school districts who opt not to recognize MLK’s birthday as a holiday, sets a harmful precedent not only internally but for others as well. After a while, and before we even know it, the exceptions swallow up the rule, and the principle is lost in a sea of pragmatic, comfortable excuses.