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Why, given the solemn importance the holiday, do Lancaster County students have to go to school on Memorial Day?
As always, Memorial Day is observed on the fourth Monday of May. This year, the federal holiday falls on May 27, the first day of the last week of school.
The Memorial Day question is one patriotic parents such as Lisa Lambert of Indian Land ask of school officials every year.
“I was curious as to why the Lancaster County School District deems it necessary for children to go to school on such a day,” Lambert said in a voice message left at the Carolina Gateway, sister publication of The Lancaster News.
“I have been to school on this day once several years ago,” she said. “The children had a field day and nothing was even mentioned about the holiday. So I was curious.”
In a later conversation, Lambert said she, like husband, Larry, is a U.S. Navy veteran who comes from a family with prior military service: Her grandfathers served in the Navy and Marines, his in the Army.
The couple’s oldest son, Logan, is a sixth-grader at Indian Land Middle School. Foster, their youngest son, is a third-grader at Indian Land Elementary who is named after a family friend and fellow sailor who died while stationed in Sicily.
Lambert said she knows local schools observe Veterans Day, but Memorial Day is special in that it’s reserved to honor those who died in service to the county.
She said she’d prefer her children go full days on the last two days of school instead of half days as scheduled and be given Memorial Day off.
“I know a lot of people are going to say they want the time off because they’d be off work and be able to do a family vacation,” Lambert said. “That’s fine and good. But more importantly, it’s a memorial to people we lost.
“We don’t want the memory of those who have fallen to be forgotten. That’s the biggest thing,” Lambert said.
“Those folks should never be forgotten. So if you’re going to be in school, you should honor those people and teach children about the day.”
School district responds
For Lancaster County School District officials, the decision to have students go to school on Memorial Day is multifaceted, but begins as a direct result of the state’s Uniform Start Date law.
The date law was passed in 2007 at the behest of the state’s tourism industry, which maintained it was losing summer tourism dollars to early-August start dates.
The law forbids school districts from starting the school year before the third Monday in August.
School officials here have long argued the late starting date prohibits the district from setting its own calendars and negatively affects scheduling of both students’ holiday breaks and exams. School districts in the Palmetto State have argued the same.
“Inevitably, the calendar works around so that we can’t finish school before Memorial Day,” said Lancaster County School District Public Information Director David Knight, who oversees development of the district’s school year calendars.
“We don’t have the freedom to start when we want to, so we can’t finish when we want to,” he said.
Knight said the other issue centers on exams and allowing students a three-day weekend before exams start.
Knight said the district’s calendar process is done with the input of the teachers forum, who consider several draft calendars.
Two final draft calendars are then sent to teachers, who vote for the calendar they’d prefer. What they prefer, Knight said, is to use Memorial Day and the two days after as student review days before final exams start May 30.
“The students who need exams the most are often the ones who don’t have good support at home. For those students to be out for a three-day weekend is not good instructionally,” Knight said. “So it becomes an instructional decision.
“Every year they (teachers) tell us, having Memorial Day off will hurt us,” he said.
So how does the local calendar compare to surrounding school districts? According to the calendars on their websites, Fairfield and Kershaw County school districts are the only others besides Lancaster County with school on Memorial.
Fort Mill, Rock Hill, Chester, Chesterfield County and York County school districts all give students Memorial Day off – but complete the school year June 6.
Knight said while Lancaster County students go to school on Memorial Day, the district is not dismissive of its significance and the memory of those it represents.
“We’re not doing this because we don’t think Memorial Day is important. It’s simply an instructional and calendar decision,” Knight said. “We do make an effort on that day to do something at every school to remember the supreme sacrifice those veterans made. Whether it’s a moment of silence or something larger depends on the school.”
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151