Saturday, March 14, 2020

Closing Schools for 4 Weeks in 1917-18

This is not about the flu.

Godfrey Avenue School c. March 1952
In the fall of 1917, it was apparent that a coal shortage would affect the ability of the Godfrey Avenue school in Wyoming Township (Michigan) to remain open. The demands on the railroads for the World War mobilization of troops and equipment, flooding, and other national problems contributed to the shortage that led to closing many factories, churches and schools that winter.

The District No. 7 (Godfrey) school board decided at its regular meeting in December 1917 to extend the Christmas holiday vacation from the normal one week to two because of the shortage. Apparently, that wasn’t long enough to deal with the shortage and the board voted to close the school for another three weeks in January-February. Most other schools in the Grand Rapids area followed suit with the exception of a number of rural one-room schools that utilized wood for heat rather than coal.

To make up the four-week closure, the board met informally with the teachers on January 18, 1918, claiming afterwards that the teachers “voluntarily offered to make good the enforced vacation by teaching on Saturday, and also should the vacation last longer than four weeks the board would meet them halfway in making up time lost.” At a meeting held on March 1, 1918, the board approved a motion that school sessions be held on 18 successive Saturdays to make up the time.

The teachers, not happy with this arrangement, petitioned the board on March 16 noting their unwillingness to “make good their voluntary offer at the informal meeting of the school board and teachers held that past January.” They noted in their petition that no promise was made beyond making up two lost weeks and that if the closing was extended further, a meeting would be called to discuss it. They felt the board’s decision was unfair because they had not been consulted as to how and how much should be made up. The board disputed their claim and noted that it “took their loyal promise in good faith and took action accordingly by asking them to teach on 18 successive Saturdays.”

After more discussion, the teachers offered to make up two weeks by teaching on 10 Saturdays. They then left the meeting. The board was unhappy with that proposal and approved a motion to withdraw its previous motion to re-employ the teachers for the next school year, with exception of Mr. R.D. Fraser, the superintendent. Upon hearing this, several teachers wrote to the board claiming they were “misrepresented in the petition” to the board. The board accepted individual requests and approved them over the next several months and most were retained with a raise.

It is not clear from the board’s minutes as to how many Saturday sessions were actually held, but it’s assumed there were at least 10.

Postscript: A letter in the Public Pulse of The Grand Rapids Press (2/25/1918) thought that it would have been better if the school boards would have extended the school day for one hour instead of requiring students to attend school on Saturdays. The writer claimed this would save on coal as each Saturday reopening of the school took more coal to heat the building than simply adding an hour a day.

District No. 7’s school board members included: John Doorenbos (president), D.H. Sailor, Simon Kaat, M. Jelsema, and Jacob Kroodsma.