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Excused Absence Policy Promotes Student Civic Engagement

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Excused Absence Policy Promotes Student Civic Engagement

Graphic By William Gangnath

Graphic By William Gangnath

Graphic By William Gangnath

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The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Education (BOE) passed a resolution Sept. 11 allowing students to be excused from school for participating in “civic engagement activities.” While this is a great opportunity to encourage social and political activism in students, it also allows for  misinterpretation and exploitation by students.

Students should be more proactive in attending protests if that is what they believe is an effective way to voice their opinion. Otherwise, they should not be using it as an excuse to skip school.

The board’s resolution comes in response to a dramatic increase in county and nationwide student participation in walkouts and protests organized last year, such as the National High School Walkout, in which students were not allowed to be excused from school and had to risk zeros for missed work in MCPS.

“This [new resolution] is not meant to be disruptive,” BOE member Patricia O’Neill said in a Sept.11 MyMCMedia article. “This is to maintain an orderly running of the school system to enable students to participate in civic engagement opportunities with parent permission.”

Despite many students actually attending the protests, there were some students who left school under false pretenses. While there are precautions schools take to prevent student exploitation of excused absences, it is equally important for all schools to follow through with them so that students are held accountable. Students must present written approval from a parent or guardian, a representative for the organized event and the school principal to ensure students are properly complying with the bill. MCPS should require all school attendance secretaries submit this paperwork to administration to ensure this process is followed.  This serious process will help cement MCPS’ recognition of the importance of student protests.

This bill has the chance to empower students who value civic engagement which is why the process must be adhered to.  Activism is beneficial for teens as it increases intellectual growth, encourages expression of opinion in a healthy way, provides a safe and healthy outlet for emotions, helps establish one’s identity and makes one more responsible and self-aware, said Gene Beresin, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

The adolescent brain is capable of far greater abstract thinking than ever before in life. Teens are budding philosophers — or lawyers. They grapple with justice, fairness, beneficence, virtue, rights and responsibilities,” Beresin said in a Feb.21 CommonHealth article. “Considering the norms of development, these kids are right on track. They have so much to gain from their courageous efforts. We should applaud them and encourage their work. Not only will their activism abet their adolescent development, they may remind us all what it means to have a voice and use it to try to make the world a better place.”

Not only has student activism increased, it has also become more effective. Following the March 44 March for Our Lives and April 20 National High School Walkout last spring calling for gun reform, several major companies such as Delta Air Lines and Hertz announced they would stop giving priority and discounts to National Rifle Association (NRA) members and sports retailer and major gun seller Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would end the sale of assault-style rifles. Furthermore, teenage activist leaders and participants, such as Douglas High School survivor Emma Gonzalez, have gained national recognition, support and credibility. Gonzalez and fellow March for Our Lives leaders have been featured and interviewed on national television stations such as CNN, and appeared in various magazines such as Time and Teen Vogue.

It is true that students could fall behind on work when they miss school and they could try to take advantage of the bill and skip school. However, many students are taking a keen interest in today’s issues and the new resolution demonstrates to students that their passions and concerns are valued.  That alone makes excused protesting worth the risks.

In order for civic engagement to be effective, persistence and tenacity are required. Legislative change does not happen quickly; instead, it happens over time as more and more people demand change. Teenagers demanding change is the beginning, and with a continued push it will be the catalyst that brings forth substantial reforms.

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Excused Absence Policy Promotes Student Civic Engagement