Schools in Virginia Encourage Students' Activism -- Should Others Follow?

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Starting January 2020, students in Fairfax County, Va., one of the largest school districts nationwide, will be allowed to take one day off per academic year to take part in protests and other "civic engagement activities," Fairfax School Board member Ryan McElveen confirmed.

McElveen, who proposed the amendment to the school management, explained that it has its roots in the 2018 Parkland shooting. The student activism in Fairfax has significantly risen since then. Students started taking time off from school to join protests. As a result, many schools were trying to figure out how to handle those civic engagement activities.

According to McElveen, the innovative measure is the first of its kind nationwide. It would affect students between 7th and 12th grades

the board member added.  They will be entitled to one excused absence per school year for a civic activity that would make their voice heard. It could be a protest or lobbying lawmakers in Washington or Richmond. 

Students who want to take advantage of the new option would need to fill in a form along with their guardians and to provide evidence they will attend the event. They also need to check-in at school on the day of absence.

McElveen highlighted that we should encourage the next generation to be pro-active and express their position openly. In his view, those are skills they will need to use later in life, whether it is lobbying a lawmaker, or making their voice heard through a protest.

He also added that school systems across the country would need to find an appropriate way to deal with the wave of student activism and positively funnel that energy.

Not everyone was fascinated by the policy introduced by the Fairfax school district. Some experts told The Washington Post that the measure tends to favor their liberal students. 

A neighboring school district, Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, was also considering a similar move recently. It has abandoned it after the community faced a wave of criticism from the conservatives who claimed that students should go to school, not to protests.

McElveen has categorically declined the accusations of favoring liberal students. He pointed out that the Fairfax school district has tried to keep the language of the new regulation as broad as possible, and in no way it is politicized

 In his opinion, students from all sides of the political spectrum can make use of it to voice their concerns on diverse sorts of problems. It is not a partisan issue at all, McElveen concluded.