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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 05/31/2010

Kids spend Memorial Day in school

By Valerie Strauss

Memorial Day is a holiday to honor Americans who have died while serving in the U.S. military, and, at least unofficially, marks the beginning of summer. But today, in school districts across the country, a lot of kids who usually have the day off are instead in class.

In most cases the day was added to the calendar to make up for time missed due to exceptionally bad winter weather, but some districts had other reasons.

Some schools in Botetourt and Montgomery counties in Virginia are open today to make up for snow days, but according to, some veterans aren’t happy about it.

"I understand children have to get an education but I feel that remembering veterans should be a little part of their education also and Memorial Day has been set aside to remember our veterans, Vietnam veteran Alan Sylvia was quoted as saying.

Wake County, N.C., district officials scheduled class on Memorial Day when they changed the school calendar to year-round classes two years ago and teachers then chose to take off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and not shorten winter break.

But the county’s Republican Party Chairman, Claude E. Pope, urged parents to keep their kids home to honor “American patriots who have fought to protect this country’s freedom.”

And, district officials Monday reported that about half of all students expected in class today stayed home.

A counter argument was made in Washington County, Fla., where students also attended school today. School board member Susan Roberts was quoted on as saying that she thinks kids will learn more about Memorial Day and what it means from teachers while they are in school on the holiday.

In Pitt County, N.C., some students went to school today for a make up day, and participated in Memorial Day events scheduled at school.

Three districts in Anderson County, S.C., went to school Monday, and county District 5 Superintendent Betty Bagley defended the move.

“I have a son in Iraq,” she was quoted as saying by the Independent Mail. “My husband never knew his father because he died in World War II. I will be at my desk on Memorial Day, just like these students, but I won’t be forgetting the sacrifices that were made so that we could have the freedoms we have.”

Memorial Day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate Civil War soldiers by decorating their graves. Known then as Decoration Day, it was made a holiday by proclamation of Gen. John A. Logan of Grand Army of the Republic. His proclamation, according to, said:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

After World War I, Memorial Day commemorations honored not just the Civil War dead but soldiers who had died in all American conflicts. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.

Today the holiday is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Traditionally the president or vice-president give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

President Obama is in Chicago today, visiting Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, while Vice President Joe Biden is at Arlington.
Several Southern states continue to set aside a special day for honoring the Confederate dead, usually called Confederate Memorial Day.

A lot of people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day. That is an annual holiday celebrated on Nov. 11, to honor all veterans, living and dead.

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By Valerie Strauss  | May 31, 2010; 10:45 AM ET
Tags:  biden and arlington, memorial day and president, memorial day and school, memorial day classes, memorial day events, memorial day observances, obama and arlington, obama and memorial day, president obama and memorial day  
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Let's face it - with the exception of people from military families and the kids in civic groups like Boy Scouts or military youth programs, Memorial Day has almost nothing to do with remembering veterans anymore. It's an unofficial start to summer...even though there are usually 2-3 more weeks of school. It's a camping weekend or time to bbq. Acting like somehow not taking the day off means that kids are being deprived of remembering people who died in America's wars is either disingenuous or naive.

Posted by: twwtheovaloffice | May 31, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

I have never understood why keeping kids (and adults) home is somehow "honoring the fallen". We have Memorial Day and Veterans's Day now.

As you say, kids in school are more likely to be asked to spend thoughtful time thinking about the than the ones at the pool or sitting at home watching TV.

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