Virginia school system implements landmark policy allowing absences for student protests

Virginia school system implements landmark policy allowing absences for student protests

Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools has implemented a landmark policy allowing students to take time off to participate in protests.

Beginning Jan. 27, the school district will allow students in seventh through 12th grades one excused absence per year to participate in “civic engagement activities,” according to multiple news outlets.

Fairfax School Board member Ryan McElveen, who reportedly introduced the policy, said the rule may be the first of its kind in the U.S. and was made in response to a recent wave of student activism across the country.

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“I think we’re setting the stage for the rest of the nation with this,” McElveen told The Washington Post, who first reported the news. “It’s a dawning of a new day in student activism, and school systems everywhere are going to have to be responsive to it.”

Experts told the Post that the practice of skipping school to attend protests tends to left-leaning causes, such as climate change and gun control.

“People who call themselves conservatives probably do still count respecting authority — staying in school — as a crucial and central tenet of the social order,” said Thai Jones, a lecturer at Columbia University who studies radical social movements.

However, school administrators maintained that the policy was designed to be as neutral as possible.

One administrator told the Post that all students have to fill out a form at least two days ahead of their planned absence explaining why they plan to miss school. Students are also required to get permission from a parent or guardian and stop by their school campus at least once during the day of their planned absence.

Fairfax County Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in the country, with more than 180,000 students.

The school district's move comes in light of a rise of youth-led activist groups like the Sunrise Movement, which has championed the Green New Deal. The progressive proposal is supported by most 2020 Democrats and seeks to eliminate U.S. carbon emissions by 2030.