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'Million Man March' in D.C. Prompts Districts To Develop Day-Off Policies

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Several large school systems will allow staff members and students to take a day off to participate in the Oct. 16 event billed as the "Million Man March."

Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, and Benjamin Chavis, the former director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, hope to draw a million black men to Washington for a "holy day of atonement."

They have also urged all African-Americans to stay home from work or school and not spend any money that day.

"We are asking black men to take responsibility for the uplifting of the community, to support and nurture the black women and children, and to play the role that they were ordained by God to play, as head of the household," Gary Foster, Mr. Chavis' executive assistant, said last week.

Officials in the District of Columbia public schools said teachers and other employees may take a vacation or personal day to attend the march, and students will be allowed to attend with parental permission. Suburban school systems in the Washington area established similar policies.

Baltimore educators who submitted a request by Oct. 6 can take the day off, and students may attend with parental permission.

Criticism in Connecticut

In Detroit, the school board unanimously passed a resolution last month allowing teachers to take a vacation day. Students who wish an excused absence for the day must have their parents complete a field-trip request form and must also write a report on the event.

In Hartford, Conn., the personnel and student-affairs committee of the school board initially recommended closing all schools for the day.

That idea drew sharp criticism from local Jewish groups, which denounced Mr. Farrakhan and other Nation of Islam leaders for alleged derogatory remarks about Jews, Catholics, whites, women, and homosexuals.

In addition, the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the school board president, Thelma Dickerson, warning that "the decision to give staff and students the day off to participate in the march without any penalty requires you in the future to give the same benefit to both staff and students for any other First Amendment activity."

Last week, the Hartford board rejected the committee's recommendation. Instead, board members passed a resolution giving the superintendent the authority to close schools if "an unsafe environment for students is created by high staff absenteeism," or if the lack of teachers drained the budget for substitutes.

"We are not spending our time responding to criticisms by anyone who is against this march," Mr. Foster said. "I don't see a problem with African-Americans trying to do right."

Representatives of school districts allowing attendance at the march said it was difficult to predict how many teachers and students will take the day off.

"I have not heard specifically any numbers," said Beverly P. Lofton, a spokeswoman for the District of Columbia schools. "I know a lot of staff will remain in the schools and use that day as a learning tool. We're hoping that each building will be staffed adequately and will use substitutes if there is a need."

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