Beginning Jan. 27, students in seventh through 12th grades in Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia will be excused one absence every school year to participate in “civic engagement activities,” says school system spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell.
Activities like sit-ins, marches, and lobbying state legislators are included, the Washington Post reports.
“I think we’re setting the stage for the rest of the nation with this,” said Fairfax School Board member Ryan McElveen, who introduced the new policy. “It’s a dawning of a new day in student activism, and school systems everywhere are going to have to be responsive to it.”
Under the policy, students requesting an excused absence must:
- obtain permission from a parent or guardian
- fill out a form explaining the reason they plan to miss school
- drop by their campus on the day of their excused absence
Given that with approximately 188,000 students, Fairfax Schools is one of the largest school systems in the United States, other districts might follow suit.
In fact, the nearby Montgomery County Schools system in Maryland considered a similar policy last year. However, the vote was tabled after opposition letters poured in from some conservatives. Similar opposition came against McElveen, who introduced the Fairfax County policy.
“[McElveen] has already faced some backlash online from conservative critics who charge the policy is the latest instance of the left coddling its too-liberal, too-sensitive youth,” the Post reports.
Apparently, a showdown is emerging between conservative critics and school districts seeking to support students’ rising voices.
Critics argue that the policy supports liberal ideology and detracts from the primary purpose of school: learning, but supporters say the policy aides students in their learning, helps them become engaged citizens and addresses the growing protest trend that’s already sweeping the country.
In September, tens of thousands of U.S. students marched to demand that action be taken to end climate change through the Global Climate Strike marches. Similarly, in 2018, students at more than 3,000 U.S. schools walked out of their classrooms to demand increased gun regulation laws on the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students were killed.
While it remains to be seen whether other school districts will follow Fairfax County’s lead, it’s clear that student protest ain’t going nowhere: as long as there’s something to protest, there will always be young, idealistic students determined to make this country a better place.