A great leap for teenage activism at MCPS?

In the wake of new political movements and newfound teenage political involvement, the Montgomery County Board of Education is considering allowing high school students to take three excused absences for civic activism. Currently, Montgomery County Public Schools legally allows absences for school-sponsored activities, deaths, illness’, pregnancy and parenting concerns, court summons, hazardous weather conditions, religious holidays, state emergencies and suspensions only.

The Board originally planned to require a principal’s approval as well as written consent from both a parent and the organization sponsoring an activist event, but recently amended its proposal to require only evidence of the activity, written parental consent and a written notification for the principal. Students around the country, whether currently involved in political activism or not, should be granted the opportunity to exercise their rights in order to interactively experience real-world events and become contributors to society in doing so. 

CESJDS policy does not currently provide excused absences specifically for students to participate in various forms of activism, though it does allow students to take a certain amount of days off each year for any reason, as long as they have parental consent. According to the 2018-2019 high school handbook, students can be excused from up to five classes a semester per course before receiving a note from a teacher and eight classes before meeting with an administrator. This makes it far easier for JDS students to attend protests, rallies or other forms of activism than MCPS students.

Activism is an essential part of a teenager’s life and development. In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Eugene Beresin says that, “Activism and protest call for expression, for persuasion. They channel creative expression into a cause, and the cause ignites the creativity.”

Beresin also explains that activism spurs intellectual growth, aids the development of teenagers’ identities and helps teenagers feel like they are a part of something.  

There are a few key issues in both of these policies that must be addressed in order for them to truly allow students to express themselves as well as to eliminate potential abuse of these rules. 

The first flaw in MCPS’ policy is that students and their parents could use activism as an excuse to skip school for other reasons. Although missing school with parental consent is allowed at JDS for any reason, MCPS is much more strict regarding absences. Missing school for other purposes than the previously mentioned ones would result in harsh punishment in the county schools. 

Next, parental consent is a significant concern for any teenager with political views or values that differ from their parents’. Students from MCPS who wanted to miss school to gun control walkouts, for example, would have been unable to do so if their parents disagreed with the movement. To remedy this concern, MCPS’ activism policy should eliminate the parental consent provision and instead permit students to take responsibility for their choices.

Despite specific concerns and ambiguities within MCPS’ policy itself, this is definitely a step in the right direction for MCPS. Politics affect us all, no matter how young or old we are. From almost weekly school shootings to controversial governmental candidates, teens deserve a chance to speak out and to learn in the process. Once the kinks of MCPS’ policy are worked out, public school students from our area will finally have a voice and the opportunity to speak their minds. 

To quote Beresin, “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.”

This story was featured in the Volume 36, Issue 3 edition of The Lion’s Tale, published on Dec. 20, 2018.