The Loudoun County School Board has sparked spirited community debate over the latest proposal to add a system-wide holiday to the 2017 calendar on Jan. 20.
In most parts of the country, cancelling classes on Inauguration Day would be viewed as educational folly. Closer to Capitol Hill, however, there may be opportunities for valuable civic lessons outside the school walls. In this region, it is feasible for students to witness the historic transfer of power in person, finding space on The Ellipse or along the presidential parade route. That’s not an opportunity readily available to students in Kansas or California.
In recognition of that, several area school districts designate Inauguration Day as a school holiday every four years. Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County and Montgomery County have adopted the holiday. Those further outside the Beltway have not.
More recently, Loudoun has addressed the issue on an ad-hoc basis. President Obama’s first inauguration was declared a holiday after the votes were tallied. Four years later, schools were closed again, but for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. When the calendar was set last fall, the notion of canceling classes Jan. 20 wasn’t given much thought.
In this case, we are reminded school administrators’ logic in not providing Veterans Day as a student holiday: Students are more likely to reflect on the sacrifices of the men and women serving in the military through school programs, than they would be if left to their own devices at home.
The best approach can be found in the middle ground. Students with the opportunity to attend the ceremonies should be permitted to do so as an excused absence. But for the rest, there is value in viewing the historic event in a classroom setting where the inherent civic lessons can be highlighted in way a that promotes better citizenship.