Virginia School System will Allow Students time off to Participate in Protests

A Virginia public school system will become one of the first districts to grant students time off to participate in protests and marches.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Northern Virginia will allow students to take time off to take part in “civic engagement activities,” Fairfax County school board member Ryan McElveen wrote on Twitter on December 18.

“I’m immensely proud that, beginning January 27, 2020, Fairfax County Public Schools will become one of the first school districts in the nation to allow excused absences for civic engagement activities,” McElveen wrote.

Quick facts about the new policy and FCPS

  • The new policy, which was introduced by McElveen earlier this year, called for students in grades 7-12 to “receive one excused absence each year to participate in civic engagement activities,” McElveen wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.

  • “While FCPS provides opportunities for students to get involved in the life of their communities and beyond, there are occasional opportunities for students to actively participate and share their voices and perspectives in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. region,” the statement reads.

  • The district’s latest policy will give students the option to take a day off during the year to participate in protests and marches, as long as they and their parents/guardians “complete the pre-arranged absence form and include documented evidence of participation in an organized event or activity,” according to the statement.

  • Fairfax County Public School system is the 10th largest school division in the U.S., with more than 188,000 students in its district, according to its website. FCPS students are 38.5 percent white, 25.9 percent Hispanic, 19.6 percent Asian and 10 percent Black, the website states.

What they’re saying:

Brian Conner, the President of the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA), a youth civil rights organization, told The North Star that the organization supports FCPS’s latest policy. Connor said that allowing students to take time off school to be involved in protests and marches would be more educational and meaningful than any other regular day at school.

“Since youths aren’t allowed to vote, it’s very important that they can get their voice out in any way possible, especially since they are more affected than anyone else by education policy, by poverty and other issues that affect their future like climate change and government debt,” Conner told TNS.

In October, elected officials in Montgomery County, Maryland also proposed allowing students to be excused from school to exercise their rights and participate in protests. Eighteen state and local officials in Maryland signed a letter to the Board of Education to consider allowing students to take a day off from school to participate in “civic engagement,” WTOP previously reported.

The idea was first introduced back in September of 2018 by Patricia O’Neil, a Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Education member. O’Neill proposed a policy change that would grant students a few days off out of the school year to participate in marches or protests, but some board members said the policy could create safety issues when students are off campus, according to WTOP.

The October letter, however, notes that research and civic engagement is educational, as it teaches skills like critical thinking and coalition building.

“We agree with our county’s student activists who argue that civic engagement supplements, rather than impedes, their classroom studies. Indeed, several studies have concluded that civic engagement activities yield greater learning and higher graduation rates. By applying academic concepts in the real world, students shift from being knowledge receivers to being idea creators,” the letter read.

“The research is clear: Civic engagement teaches higher-order skills — including critical thinking, writing, technology, and coalition building — at more advanced levels of aptitude. These skills will serve our students well not only in college and their careers, but throughout their lives, making them engaged citizens capable of advocating for what they believe in.”

An MCPS spokesperson told WTOP the Board’s Policy Management Committee will review the policy in January 2020.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.