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A public school in Virginia lets students take days off to attend protests. Others should too.

Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia will allow students excused absences to take part in demonstrations starting in the new year. Conservatives aren't too happy.

A public school in Virginia lets students take days off to attend protests. Others should too.
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 11: Climate protester Mina Doebele, 12, of Denver, Colorado holds a sign at the Fridays For Future Denver Climate Strike on October 11, 2019, at Civic Center Park in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

In a landmark introduction to school policy earlier this month, Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia have decided to allow students excused absences so they can take part in protests, The Washington Post reports. As civic participation becomes increasingly important in our communities, the Virginia public school system will now be able to ensure that their students do not just prosper academically, but can also contribute to their societies in meaningful ways. Those in the management team at Fairfax County Public Schools hopes that other school systems throughout the United States will follow suit.


The innovative policy will come into effect in the new year, beginning on January 27. Students from grades seven through 12 will be permitted one excused absence during the academic year to participate in "civic engagement activities." These activities can include marches, sit-ins, or trips to Richmond to help rally or lobby legislators. According to Fairfax School Board member Ryan McElveen, who reportedly introduced the policy addition, this rule is the first of its kind in the entire country - other schools are yet to institute such a policy. He confirmed that the rule was introduced as a response to the massive wave of student activism that the United States has seen in the recent past.


"I think we’re setting the stage for the rest of the nation with this," he said in an interview with The Washington Post. "It’s a dawning of a new day in student activism, and school systems everywhere are going to have to be responsive to it." Student protests over the past year, ranging from those fighting against gun violence or the more recent Fridays for Future demonstrations calling on legislators to act on climate change, have been a rather integral part of raising national awareness about important issues and influencing federal and state-level policy. The hope is that adopting such a rule will encourage more students to shape their futures. However, not everyone is convinced.


Conservative critics have claimed that the policy is only the latest example of those in the left molly-coddling the country's "too-liberal, too-sensitive" youth. This is not the first time such a move has come under right-wing scrutiny. In the past, Montgomery County Schools board member Patricia O’Neill attempted to introduce a similar policy in her public school system. It was ultimately tabled due to the "hundreds of emails, letters, and calls from self-identified conservatives" who argued that children belong in classrooms, not at protests. Nonetheless, McElveen remains positive about moving forward with their newly-instituted policy.


Wendy Gao, a student of Fairfax, believes the new rule is vital to creating a positive impact. She stated, "Skipping school and business as usual is to show that there’s no point in going to school if we are having our future taken away from us. There’s not a point to our education if we’re not going to be alive in 10 years, 20 years, the end of the century." She, like other students, will simply have to fill out a form two days prior to their planned absence to explain the reason behind their absence. They will also need permission from their parent or guardian and, in order to assuage worries about accreditation, will need to stop by their school to check in on their day of absence. While some have concerns about students misusing this policy to play hooky, administrators remain hopeful. Should it work, it will set a positive precedent for the rest of America to follow suit.


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