(Host) Memorial Day observances date back to the years following the Civil War. But it wasn’t until 1971 that Congress declared the day an official holiday.
A little known provision to Vermont’s education law requires that schools put on programs to commemorate Memorial Day.
As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, few – if any – schools meet the letter of the law. But many observe Memorial Day.
(Zind) Here’s what the short section of Title 16, Vermont’s Education Act says. Quote: "The last half-day’s session of the public schools before Memorial Day shall be devoted to exercises commemorative of the history of the nation during its wars and to patriotic instruction in the principles of liberty and the equal rights of man."
Many schools aren’t familiar with the law but a number of them do observe Memorial Day in different ways.
(Zind) Hartland Elementary School’s program is among the most ambitious. Seventh graders visit the cemetery to decorate the graves of service members, and the school gathers Friday morning before Memorial Day for an hour long program, listening to speakers like Hartland area representative John Bartholomew.
(Bartholomew) "As you grow older, you will develop your own opinions about politics, about war and about foreign policy, and you’ll hear from folks who are either supportive or opposed to every war. But I hope you discover that everyone acknowledges the sacrifice of those who answer the call of duty."
(Zind) The Hartland Elementary School program also includes music ranging from patriotic country numbers to Woody Guthrie.
("This Land is Your Land" )
(Zind) Hartland Elementary Principal Judith Callens says the school has observed Memorial Day for years, but it’s had greater meaning for students over the past decade.
(Callens) "9-11 brought it home to students and I think it’s far more significant than it used to be."
(Zind) Schools observing Memorial Day take a variety of approaches.
Mount Mansfield High School has combined the message of two holidays. Principal Jennifer Botzojorns says the school responded to a call from President Obama to perform community service on Martin Luther King Day in January by folding it into Memorial Day.
(Botzojorns) "We decided that right dead in the middle of winter is not the best time in Vermont to be able to be performing community service. And we said Memorial Day is a time when we’re reflecting on what we have as a country and the folks who fought for that. And in memory of that it would be a good time for our school to perform service."
(Zind) Botzojorns says each year on the Friday before Memorial Day students from Mount Mansfield fan out throughout the supervisory union district to do community service projects.
There weren’t any observances at little Isle La Motte Elementary School until just a few years ago. That’s when Betty Lockerby heard something on the radio that upset her.
(Lockerby) "They were calling children to see what Memorial Day meant to them. And I heard some kid say it was the day that the pool opened! And I thought, ‘Oh, my God!’"
(Zind) So Lockerby approached the principal at Isle La Motte Elementary and they worked together to organize a program. It involves local Legionnaires and a visit by students to veterans graves at a nearby local cemetery, where small flags are placed on veterans’ graves.
The state law that requires schools to observe Memorial Day is about 40 years old. While some schools don’t have Memorial Day programs, the Department of Education says it’s not a law that the state attempts to enforce.
For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.