Excused Absences for Protesting?


Maggie Brown, Writer

Last month, one of the biggest school districts in America made huge waves by announcing a controversial policy: Fairfax County, VA will give students excused absences for protesting. For one day during the year, students can involve themselves in activism and civic engagement during school hours. Inspired by March for our Lives, the policy is the first of its kind— but should other schools implement it? Fairfax administrators hope that their ideas will set a wider trend among American schools. Several districts in New York have followed Virginia’s lead; the question is whether or not it belongs in Madison City Schools.

With Madison growing so fast, there are more opportunities than ever for students to raise their voices. “I would take advantage of [an excused-absence policy] to participate in politics,” said Ashlee Sunderman, senior. “It would encourage students to be proactive and politically active.” One absence from school could change a teen’s life; they might discover a passion for politics, community organizing, or even just helping the people around them. Many demonstrations take place during school hours—would a handful of missed days measure up to the impact a student could make on the world? When surveyed, many Bob Jones students said that kids who would take advantage of these excused days would go to protests anyway, no matter the consequences. However, facing an unexcused absence still discourages another fifty would-be activists for every person willing to take the L.

If more school districts put this policy into place, there could be plenty of complications. “I think you have to make sure that it’s well-documented,” said Mr. Congo, BJHS Latin teacher. If the policy was unregulated, it would be easy to take advantage of; when surveyed, several students said that they would use the absence to skip school. “No one is making sure that a student is actually going out to protest or rally,” said one Bob Jones junior. However, students already lie on parent notes—absences for protests might not make much of a difference. Getting a note from the event organizer could be a way around the potential problem as well. If anything, missing school to contribute to important causes only attests to a student’s responsibility.

Overall, Bob Jones students seem to be interested in the idea. The ability to make a change in our community is just as valuable as our education; teachers, parents, and college reps alike want to see more involvement in activism among teenagers. Between busy schedules and extracurriculars, Fairfax County’s policy could create visionaries and mediators in the making.