A Virginia school district has instituted a plan that will give students one excused absence per year in order to participate in protests or other “civic activities,” ABC News reports. Since conservative kids are more likely to stay in school and less likely to attend protests, critics say the plan unfairly benefits liberal kids.
Ryan McElveen, a member of the Fairfax County School Board, says that beginning with the spring 2020 school term, kids in seventh through 12th grade will be given one day off per year to engage in “civic activities.” Those activities could include attending protests, meeting with legislators, or otherwise advocating for social and political causes.
“It’s a dawning of a new day in student activism, and school systems everywhere are going to have to be responsive to it,” he said, adding that the policy might be the first of its kind in the country.
Students who want to take advantage of the policy will have to give two days’ advanced notice and will need a parent or guardian to complete a form explaining what sort of “civic activity” the child will be participating in. And lest the school risk its accreditation due to excessive absenteeism, kids would have to “stop by” the school at least once on the day of their absence.
District spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell says that several kids in the district were missing school in order to attend protests or other civic acts, so it made sense for the district to formalize a policy allowing them to do so.
“There were many students who were engaged and have been engaged and it was decided that it was time to go ahead and put into place,” she said.
Not everyone is likely to be pleased with the new policy, however.
Meira Levinson, a Harvard University professor who studies education, says that there’s a fundamental difference in the way liberals and conservative children engage civically.
“Kids on the right who are active, they tend to be doing it by preparing to run for school board, or being aides in legislature,” she said.
In other words, conservative kids are less likely than their liberal peers to take a day off from school to attend a protest, preferring instead to engage civically in other ways.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Columbia University lecturer Thai Jones. He says that conservative kids tend to “respect authority” and stay in school rather than skip to attend protests.