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School district sanctions ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ for civic activism
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

The every kid gets a participation trophy movement has reached a new level of absurdity.

Fairfax County Public Schools Board of Education — the nation’s 12th largest school system with almost 188,000 students — has adopted a policy that gives students one excused absence per school year to essentially participate in civil disobedience.

The politically correct marketing of the new district policy calls skipping class participating in “civic engagement activities”. The offer of a get-out-of-school-free-for-a-day card without suffering any consequences so you can “stick it to the man” is open to all seventh through 12th graders.

The trustee that introduced the proposal — Ryan McElveen — gleefully proclaimed “I think we’re setting the stage for the rest of the nation with this one. It’s a dawning of a new day in student activism, and school systems everywhere are going to be responsive to it.”

This is not about spontaneous protests where students would put class credits or a grade on the line. Instead they must give the school at least two days’ notice. They must have a parent or guardian fill out a permission slip. They must fill out a form to explain why they are missing school. And so, the district does not lose any funding or accreditation, the 21st century Jerry Rudins must check in with the school at least once on the day they are taking it to the streets.

Abbie Hoffman must be spinning in his grave.

What the Fairfax County Public Schools policy does is institutionalize civil disobedience with an Orwellian twist.

The government, of which the school district is part of, is basically setting the parameters for when it is OK to protest. While that is obviously the idea it institutionalizes protests to the point it really isn’t a protest as much as it is a school assignment complete with a permission slip from mom.

It also opens the door for some bizarre possibilities.

Let’s say the good students of Fairfax County Public Schools want to join a march or participate in a rally for President Trump or Bernie Sanders. Will the school personnel involved get skittish because of political correctness issues?

What happens if a principal at one school gives the OK for students to attend a Sanders rally but an administrator at another school says no to students wanting a sanctioned school day off to wear a MAGA hat and attend a Trump rally?

Better yet what if students are allowed to go to a protest for LBGT rights and then some students want to attend a Straight Alliance event?

Oh, that’s right. The hardcore PC crowd will insist any student wanting to go to a Straight Alliance event to “engage in civic activities” is not being political but is simply a bigot.

The odds are school level administrators will be making PC decisions on what causes are OK for time off from school and what ones aren’t.

It’s kind of tough in this day and age to think of any high school principal no matter how fair minded they are would feel comfortable giving the OK for students to skip class to attend a gun rights rally staged by the NRA.

All it takes is one social media posting and the full reactionary weight of the Internet will come crashing down on the school.

And while it is understandable the school district wants to encourage participation in civic activities without students skipping school to do so, it doesn’t promote the kids putting skin in the game.

Weighing a penalty for missing school that includes tests, lectures, assignments or classroom discussions against whatever cause is burning in the hearts of a student is part of learning judgment calls. Is breaking the rules and suffering potential consequences worth the cause?

But then again, a student at Oakton High — Wendy Gao — quoted by Associated Press, gives one pause about what is really happening. Gao was quoted as saying, “Skipping school and business as usual is to show there’s no point to going to school if we are going to have our future taken away from us. There’s not a point to our education if we’re not going to be alive in 10 years, 20 years — the end of the century.”

Gao was referencing her take on climate change. But it sounds just like what was said by high school students during the 1960s about the Vietnam War.

Gao, who said she has already skipped school five days in recent months to participate in civic activism, hopes the new rules will get more students “to attend climate strikes.”

The message is clear. Eliminate the penalties with what is essentially a glorified hall pass and you can ignite civic consciousness in those 18 and under.

Gao has skin in the game based on her having to make up for lost class time and possibly suffering disciplinary consequences at school. She’s obviously not a tourist when it comes to civic engagement.

So, what happens if 30 of Gao’s schoolmates take the school up on its offer and get clearance from parents and administrators for a 2020 sequel to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” but with a political twist and get hooked?

Gao has missed five days so far for climate activism. What makes any school official think that it will be one and done when it comes to impressionable young minds with a burning desire to change the world?

 As for the school board member’s breath-taking statement that “it’s a dawning of a new day in student activism” and that “school systems everywhere are going to have to be responsive to it”, how does that square up with reality?

All causes worth the effort come with a price.

Everybody wants to win whether it is playing a game or pushing an agenda.

Fairfax County Public Schools has found a way to inject the participation trophy mentality when it comes to young people being involved with political discourse.

Just like everyone gets a trophy so there are no hurt feelings, no one gets penalized for missing school just because they want to support a cause.