Students protest at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School March 14. Credit: File photo

The Montgomery County Board of Education moved one step closer Tuesday to allowing high schoolers excused absences for political reasons.

The board unanimously voted on to give preliminary approval to proposed that would allow students to participate in organized protests and other civic activities, provided they get written permission from a parent, a sponsoring organization and the principal of their school.

“Public education in the United States was established to prepare its future citizens for our democracy, and to that end this is an important change to allow our students to participate in civic engagement,” said member Patricia O’Neill, who chairs the board’s Policy and Management Committee.

The policy comes on the heels of a series of walkouts  by Montgomery County Public School students that followed the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead. A student’s participation in the walkouts, which centered on gun control advocacy, was considered an unexcused absence by MCPS unless an individual principal decided otherwise.

Student board member Ananya Tadikonda said the proposed policy was a “move in the right direction.”

“This change will ensure that our county moves toward encouraging civic engagement rather than condemning it,” she said.


Further details have yet to be worked out, such as how to ensure that activities that students are allowed to participate in are “viewpoint neutral,” meaning they don’t advocate a partisan  .

Board members Jill Ortman-Fouse and Rebecca Smondrowski also briefly floated the idea of requiring students to show “evidence of learning,” such as writing a follow-up essay to prove that they participated and to show what they learned from the experience.

“I think that’s a great idea, because I do have concerns about kids who will say they’re going, and then everybody walks out of the school … not saying I know anyone who would do that, but it’s a worry,” Smondrowski said.


She also inquired as to whether the policy would be extended to middle schoolers, but Superintendent Jack Smith said he did not favor that suggestion because it would pose a safety concern for the younger students.

“To have them leave campus as 12, 13 and 14-year-olds is not wise in several different ways,” he said.

The board will revisit the proposal after 30 days, once there has been an opportunity for the public to comment.


Dan Schere can be reached at