MCPS to excuse students for civic engagement

Emily Chen

The Montgomery County Board of Education has granted preliminary approval to a proposal that excuses students for “civic engagement activities.” These activities include campaigning for politicians or attending events sponsored by legitimate organizations. However, these do not include student-led walkouts, which have increased in the past few years. The Board of Education will be voting on the proposal at their next meeting.

The proposal states that students can be excused for political activity up to three times if they have approval from a guardian, the principal, and the organization sponsoring the event.

Chair of the Board’s Policy Management Committee Patricia O’Neill clarified that the policy would not excuse students for “spontaneous” protests, such as the walkouts following the deadly Parkland shooting or the 2016 election. While students are permitted to organize walkouts given they communicate with the appropriate staff, leaving school campus would still be considered an unexcused absence.

However, protests with an organization unaffiliated with the school are included within the scope of the policy. “While…walking out from the school building is not covered in [civic engagement activities] because that’s a liability on the school, if you decide to attend a protest in DC, that is included,” Student Member of the Board and RM senior Ananya Tadikonda said.

This policy change comes as a result of the Board’s heightened interest in supporting high school students in political activities. “I think it’s a great proposal because I think it’s very important to teach students about the importance of civil engagement and encourage it instead of condemning it,” Tadikonda said.

However, the Board must weigh the students’ rights to expression with their safety, and has continued to discourage student-organized walkouts. According to MCPS’ official statement, “Leaving school property can disrupt instruction for other students and pose a significant safety risk.”

Some students believe this policy will positively impact student activism but disagree with the proposal’s exclusion of walkouts. “I think it’s a good step forward. Students should be given the opportunity to participate in civic engagement activities because we are otherwise not given much voice,” junior Clara Bonzi said. “But at the same time, walkouts or spontaneous events should be considered legitimate.”

“I don’t think the policy would stop kids from doing walkouts, which is why I think it’s important that the policy includes walkouts,” Bonzi said. “Attendance does not dissuade me from participating in events where I feel like my voice will be heard.”

Other students believe this policy may help encourage students to take measures of political activism besides walkouts. “There are better ways to protest, I think, than just ignoring what you’re supposed to do,” freshman David Louis said.

Another area of contention is the Board’s requirement of a sponsoring organization’s approval. “Sometimes, the organizations are really big and kids on a low level aren’t going to be able to get approval from them. So, I think it shouldn’t require an organization, but I think it’s fair to ask your principal,” freshman Hazel Hoppe said.

For now, the Board has just completed its 30-day wait period for public input and will be voting on the proposal at their next meeting.